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Sandy Hook dad dead in suicide was Sabino, UA grad

Jeremy Richman, the father of a Newtown school massacre victim, was found dead of a suicide Monday morning. Richman, 49, grew up in Tucson, graduating from Sabino High School and the University of Arizona.

Richman, a Newtown, Conn., resident, was found by police and paramedics around 7 a.m. at his office. He was the father of Avielle Richman, a first-grader killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Friends in Tucson remembered him as "amazing," "brilliant," and "one of those friends who you aspire to be like."

He was the third mass-shooting survivor to die by suicide in a week. Two teenage survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., have also died.

Richman was a member of Sabino's Class of 1988, and graduated from UA with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 1992. He then earned a UA Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology.

One of his former instructors called his death a "shocking tragedy."

"I was just beginning my new career in a faculty position at the University of Arizona, and knew Jeremy when he was a graduate student," said Michael Ossipov, a former UA pharmacology research professor. "I remember him as being warm, friendly and affable. He was intelligent and seemed to have an aura of leadership about him."

A lecturer at the Yale School of Medicine, Richman was a neuropsychopharmacologist who founded the research and education nonprofit the Avielle Foundation in the wake of the slaying of his six-year-old daughter, who was one of the 20 children and 6 adults murdered in the 2012 school shooting.

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Named after the young girl, the Avielle Foundation worked to advance brain research into the roots of violence. The foundation uses community engagement, education and brain research to prevent violence and build compassion.

Richman's parents moved to New Mexico several years ago. Since Avielle's murder, Richman and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, had a daughter, Imogen Joy, born in 2014, and a son, Owen, born in 2016.

In a statement released by the foundation, they asked for "the privacy anyone would deserve to begin to process this tragic development."

"Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend. Jeremy was a champion father, husband, neuroscientist and, for the past seven years, a crusader on a mission to help uncover the neurological underpinnings of violence through the Avielle Foundation," they said. "We are crushed to pieces, but this important work will continue, because, as Jeremy would say, we have to."

Richman's high-school classmates shared stories and tears as the news of his death spread Monday.

Calling his death "heartbreaking" and Richman "amazing," former Sabino student Terri Peters Cropp said, "I absolutely remember Jeremy. His smile was contagious and he was a friend to everyone."

"Jeremy was one of my best friends from high school," said CJ Parisi. "I met him in phys ed at Sabino during freshman year and we just hit it off as kids tend to do. He was one of the nicest, most honest guys I knew."

"He was a huge influence on me in many ways; he was one of those friends who you aspire to be like," said Parisi, who related that Richman inspired him to get into better shape during high school, and with his studies in college.

"He was brilliant but didn't like the thought of 'working for the man"; his goal in life was to be an underwater welder, so he would have to only work six months and then spend the rest of the year diving and hanging out on the beach," Parisi said. "In college I was in the nuclear engineering program and I told him about some of the classes; apparently I made it sound fun so he took a class titled: 'quantum mechanics for non-engineers,' which he loved so much, the next time I ran into him on his motorcycle he was in the Ph.D. program for neuroscience/neuropharmacology. I was still in my MS program for Nuke. When I struggled to the point of crying and smashing some things in the backyard with a sledgehammer and I figured being an accountant was easier, Jeremy was my inspiration to tough it out and finish."

"We had lost touch for a long time... He moved to Connecticut and I moved to Minneapolis, then Atlanta," Parisi said. "One day, in 2013, I came to Tucson for a visit and I was on the flight home to Atlanta. I look up and see Jeremy walking down the aisle and I couldn't believe it. What's even more freaky, his assigned seat was next to me! Of all the seats on the plane, of all the times we could have been visiting Tucson at the same time.... We caught up; at the time I didn't recognize the name Sandy Hook, and when he told me about his daughter I was stunned. I just had no idea what to say. Nothing in life prepared me for anything more than 'I am so sorry,' and how do you continue?"

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Richman "shared a bit more about his life, how he started a foundation named after her to apply neuroscience to stopping violence. The foundation wasn't, for him, about the guns, but about the root cause of violence. Again, he was an inspiration, I was envious (in a good way) of his ability to turn tragedy into an outlet for good. And he still lived life, kept up with Jiu-jitsu and Kung-fu and had a barn set up for sparring with his friends."

"Few people have touched my life like Jeremy.... I loved him; never said it, but I feel it acutely now. He was a huge gift in the short time I knew him and I will miss him deeply," Parisi said.

The Richmans were among the Newtown families subjected to online harassment by conspiracists and hoaxers. The Richmans and other Sandy Hook families are suing Alex Jones and others associated with his Infowars website, including Wolfgang Halbig, who has spent years claiming that Avielle Richman is alive and living under an alias in Newtown. Halbig has appeared numerous times on Jones's programs, and showed up in Newtown with an Infowars camera crew as he attempted to "prove" that the children murdered in the school shooting were alive.

Jones and other Infowars characters claimed the Sandy Hook shooting was "completely fake" and a "false flag" attack by the U.S. government, and that the child victims were actors. In the immediate wake of the Jan. 8, 2011, assassination attempt on then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in which six people were killed in Tucson, Jones broadcast claims that the shooting was a "staged mind-control operation."

Connecticut authorities said Monday that Richman's death was an "apparent suicide." Wednesday, the state medical examiner's office confirmed that.

Richman left a note, authorities said, but they have not disclosed what it said.

From the Monday report by the Danbury News-Times:

“He was a beautiful human being,” said Kevin Hines, an author who travels the country to tell his story of surviving a suicide attempt. “He was a hero of mine.” ...

In mid-afternoon, his foundation released a statement filled with grief and gratitude.

“Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend,” the statement read, calling Richman “a crusader on a mission to help uncover the neurological underpinnings of violence.”

“Jeremy was deeply devoted to supporting research into brain abnormalities that are linked to abnormal behavior and to promoting brain health,” the statement read. “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.”

Richman had an office at the 45 Main St. building where his body was discovered.

Police found a note at the scene, but have not said what was in it.

Richman was found in a stage area undergoing renovations, police said.

“We put such an emphasis on practical academic learning, which is so critical for life skills that we forget that being human means being able to recognize our own strengths and weaknesses, and being able to advocate for ourselves and for our peers,” he told Hearst Connecticut Media in 2015.

Because his death has the potential to re-traumatize people affected by the Sandy Hook massacre, mental health experts were brought in for police officers, town employees and for the schools.

“Obviously we are concerned for our community, and we are concerned for our police officers who responded who were also first responders on that tragic day,” said Newtown police Lt. Aaron Bahamonde.

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First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said he was proud to call Richman his friend.

“There are no words to describe the tragic weight of today’s news,” Rosenthal said in a prepared statement. “Jeremy Richman was a loving husband, father and friend to many.”

Richman was a neuropharmacologist with more than 20 years of experience in research and drug discovery. He studied neuroscience, as well as researching various ailments, such as diabetes and kidney disease. He enjoyed rock climbing and teaching martial arts, according to the Avielle Foundation’s website.

“Jeremy is passionate about helping people live happier and healthier lives and is dedicated to engaging and educating youth, believing that our future relies on their imaginations,” stated his biography on the foundation’s website.

The cause of Richman’s death is under investigation. Police said it appears to be a suicide, but they would not disclose further details, except to say that it does not appear to be suspicious.

Richman’s death comes in the wake of suicides of two teenagers who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Last week, 19-year-old Sandy Aiello, who was a senior during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, died by suicide. Her mother said she struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. Then, another Parkland teen was reported dead over the weekend in an “apparent suicide.”

Richman’s body was transported to the State of Connecticut Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy that is expected to be done Monday.

“This is a heart-breaking event for the Richman family and the Newtown community as a whole,” Bahamonde said in a press release. “The police department’s prayers are with the Richman family right now, and we ask that the family be given privacy in this most difficult time.”

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Carol Kaliff/Hearst Connecticut Media

Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel, parents of Avielle, one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Suicide prevention lifeline

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or needs emotional support, help is available 24/7 through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The lifeline is free, confidential and available any time by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by visiting www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Statement from the Avielle Foundation

Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend. Jeremy was a champion father, husband, neuroscientist and, for the past seven years, a crusader on a mission to help uncover the neurological underpinnings of violence through the Avielle Foundation, which he and his wife, Jennifer Hensel, founded after the death of their daughter, Avielle, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 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.

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.

As we did six years ago and now must do again today, we ask both the media and the public to give the family the privacy anyone would deserve to begin to process this tragic development.