After their 6-year-old daughter Avielle was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Jeremy Richman and his wife started a foundation in her name that pushed for research into the origins of violent behavior in the brain.
But it seems Richman could not find a way to heal his broken heart.
On Monday, Richman was discovered dead of an apparent suicide at the office of the Avielle Foundation, which is located in the Edmond Town Hall, an event space in downtown Newtown, Connecticut.
“It’s a tragedy with Jeremy,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son Jesse was killed at Sandy Hook. “We’re all heartbroken, you know. Your heart’s broken forever. It’s something you live with, you deal with. And Jeremy was dealing with it too.”
Heslin said that in the aftermath of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting that left 20 first-graders and six school staffers dead, he saw Richman often at memorials and on a trip to Washington to lobby legislators to ban the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that Adam Lanza used to kill their children.
But at the years went on, Heslin said they crossed paths less frequently.
“I would see him casually here and there,” he said. “We would talk. We were good friends and he was someone I felt privileged to know. There’s just no words for it.”
Richman’s death sent a shudder through Newtown, which is still healing more than six years after the mass shooting and where the locals say “12-14,” the date of the shooting, to refer to what Lanza wrought.
Almost immediately after Richman’s body was found, the Resiliency Center of Newtown — a nonprofit that was set up to help people in the community cope in the aftermath of the mass shooting — put out the word on social media that they were open and ready to help anybody who needed it.
“With very heavy hearts the RCN staff is with our community,” the Facebook post read. “We are open and here for anyone to gather, holding space for each other.”
Stephanie Cinque, who founded the center and is the executive director, said the Newtown community is all too familiar with dealing with the fallout from tragedies.
“And we are learning more as we move forward and there are more tragedies,” she said.
The Resiliency Center was where many anguished Newtown residents went after hearing about the slaughter of students in Parkland, Florida, and the Texas church shooting that left more than a dozen children dead, she said.
It gets especially busy in the weeks leading up to the annual Sandy Hook anniversary and during the long Connecticut winter.
“For a lot of people, it’s a safe place to go,” Heslin said. “It’s important to have somebody who has experience dealing with that sort of trauma.”
“Relationships heal people,” she said. “With the horrible loss of Jeremy, we have a space where we are able to bring people together. People really need each other.”
The center, which opened in 2013, provides a variety of programs and has board-certified therapists on staff.
“It’s really a community-based center,” Cinque said. “We are a nonmedical provider in town. When you come into the center, there’s a community center with couches and chairs where people can gather, and therapeutic rooms on the side where people can get the help they need.”
Richman, 49, was a neuropharmacologist who founded the Avielle Foundation “to prevent violence through brain research and fostering community.” He was keenly aware that what happened in Newtown was not an isolated tragedy.
“My wife, Jennifer, and I are infinitely heartbroken,” they wrote on the Avielle Foundation mission statement.
Heslin said he knows what Richman was grappling with and how alone intense grief can make a person feel.
“I talk to somebody on a regular basis just to make sure I’m in tune,” Heslin said. “I’m psychologically and emotionally in a good position. But anybody could slip into a dark place. It’s very easy to fall into that dark place.”
Asked if he had any other thoughts on the death of his friend, Heslin said he did.
“Every time a suicide makes headlines, news organizations should post a suicide hotline number,” he said. “Even on a national story. Post the damn thing. It might save a life.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.