The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Sandy Hook father’s apparent suicide, donations pour in so his research on violence can continue

Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman, the parents of Avielle Richman, 6, along with David Wheeler, right, the father of Benjamin Wheeler, 6, attend the launch of the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit created in response to the 2012 elementary school shooting that claimed the lives of six school staffers and 20 children, including their 6-year-olds. (Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

When Jeremy Richman was discovered dead in an apparent suicide at a town hall in Connecticut on Monday, there was a collective understanding of what might have happened, even though police are still investigating.

It goes like this: Richman, 49, the father of a first-grade girl killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, took his own life because he could not bear the horror of losing his 6-year-old daughter, Avielle, in such a gut-turning, violent way.

Richman tried to make something positive of his daughter’s memory. In an effort to try to understand what happened on a scientific level, Richman and Avielle’s mother, Jennifer Hensel, both scientists, founded a nonprofit that aims to prevent violence through brain research. They called it Avielle Foundation: Preventing Violence & Building Compassion.

But it seems the tragedy of Avielle’s killing might have been too much for Richman. His death came as the nation was already saddened by the deaths of two survivors of the Parkland high school mass shooting in Florida, also apparently by suicide.

With the idea of picking up Richman’s research where he left off, Silicon Valley investor and philanthropist Ron Conway launched a GoFundMe for the Avielle Foundation and contributed $100,000. He called it “Carrying on Jeremy’s mission,” and wrote that he hopes others will donate to show support for what Richman started but couldn’t continue.

Conway has been a supporter of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise and other advocacy groups that are working to prevent children from becoming victims of gun violence. He said he and Richman became friends after the tragedy and stayed close, and that Richman was at Conway’s home in California 10 days ago to visit and talk about “brain health.”

Conway said Richman did not seem suicidal, but he seemed “melancholy.” Richman showed Conway photos of his two children, whom he and his wife had after Avielle was killed, and Richman noted how much his daughter resembles Avielle, Conway said.

“He was talking a lot about that, and that really struck me,” Conway said.

Since the GoFundMe went up Monday evening, donations have reached about $135,000.

“Our hearts break following the news of the passing of Jeremy Richman. Jeremy was a loving father, husband, friend, and advocate to reduce violence in our communities,” reads the GoFundMe. “It’s hard to make sense of this, but his legacy and work must continue.”

The fundraiser quoted a statement from the Avielle Foundation, saying: “Jeremy’s mission will be carried on by the many who love him, including many who share the heartache and trauma that he has suffered since December 14, 2012. We are crushed to pieces, but this important work will continue, because, as Jeremy would say, we have to."

The statement also said:

“Jeremy was deeply devoted to supporting research into brain abnormalities that are linked to abnormal behavior and to promoting brain health. Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need.”