AP NEWS

Editorial Sandy Hook father led crusade for empathy

March 26, 2019

Jeremy Richman, who took his life on Newtown’s community stage, made it clear since his daughter died in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 that he wanted others to feel his pain.

A parent who loses a child asks “Why?” Richman relentlessly pursued an answer. He pointed to the void of empathy shared by the shooters behind America’s killing spree. A neuropharmacologist, he wanted to understand what prompts the mentally ill to kill. He wanted to save others.

In his own way, he managed to summon a measure of empathy for those capable of murder. While gun advocates stubbornly redirected the conversation to focus on mental health, Richman did just that.

“If we can know why, with that knowledge, we can prevent similar atrocities from claiming the lives of vulnerable loved ones,” he told lawmakers in Hartford seven weeks after Adam Lanza killed Avielle Richman and 25 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Richman said that while burying his daughter, he was already shaping the concept of the Avielle Foundation, which has a stated mission to “prevent violence and build compassion through neuroscience research, community engagement, and education.”

Since then, he repeatedly invited us, challenged us and implored us to step inside the curtain of his grief:

“I miss Avie more every day,” he said four months after she died.

“Who owns this tragedy? We argue that we do. It was bought and paid for in the most tragic of ways,” he said in November 2014.

“The brain is just another organ and you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to recognize that it can be healthy, it can be unhealthy, and that you need to feel comfortable advocating for your own brain health and the brain health of your loved ones. We feel that the failure to do that led in large part to the tragedy at Sandy Hook,” he said in 2016 .

“It doesn’t do any good to support research and know the mechanics of brain science that lead to violence or compassion if you can’t give it to the everyday citizen in a way that is tangible. Our job is to connect the dots for people who don’t see the lines in-between,” he said in November, on the stage where he died.

“We wanted to prevent others from suffering the way that we were suffering, and continue to suffer to this day,” he said in a videotaped interview last week.

Richman left his job as a pharmaceutical researcher to focus full-time on the work of the Avielle Foundation. His suicide occurred days after two teenage survivors of the mass shooting at a Florida high school killed themselves.

He tried to save lives by challenging us to imagine the worst. As he wrote on the first page of the final report of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, “As hard as horrible as it sounds, we need people to imagine what it is like.”

Jeremy Richman believed his crusade could save others.

It still can.