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After School Shootings, Survivors Experience a Lifetime of Trauma

Three suicides over the past week exemplify the trauma communities endure from being witness to, or surviving, a mass shooting.

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On Monday morning, reports surfaced that Jeremy Richman, father Avielle Richman who was one of the 26 people who died at the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, appeared to have taken his own life.

The tragic news follows two other suicides related to mass shootings. Sydney Aiello, a college freshman who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, committed suicide last week, and another unidentified Stoneman Douglas student also appeared to take their own life.

The three deaths highlight the fact that long after the reporters and the lawmakers and the American public seemingly moves on from incidences of mass violence, the trauma that these communities endure from bearing witness to or surviving a mass shooting lingers for years after. 

Richman, a neurologist, leaves behind two other children and his wife. He started The Avielle Foundation on behalf of his daughter, who was only six when she died.  The foundation’s goal was to prevent further acts of mass violence by supporting brain health and mental health research as well as by connecting communities. He had left his job as a researcher at a pharmaceutical company to run the company full time. Richman said his daughter’s death changed everything. “It’s such a shock to the system, that you just feel displaced, like the world is spinning and you are not and you are just going to get thrown off of it. We came to the idea that we were going to create a foundation in her honor.”

Aside from Richman’s work in combating and understanding the neurological origins of violence, he often spoke about dealing with tragedy to help others. Earlier this month, he hosted an event with Brene Brown on mental health, vulnerability, and courage after experiencing tragedy.

Richman was also part of a massive lawsuit against Alex Jones. The host of InfoWars, Jones spread disinformation about the Sandy Hook shooting, claiming it was a hoax and that the bodies of children were planted on the scene. Jones disgustingly claimed the families lied about their children dying, and sometimes, even about having kids at all. Several Jones fans trolled the living family members of these dead children, and Richman was one target of that hatred. Just last month, Jones was ordered to give a sworn deposition in that case.

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Richman experienced an insurmountable tragedy and fought hard to prevent other parents from experiencing what he was forced to. He was also extremely open about his own struggles with grief. Given his outspokenness on mental health, his mission with the Avielle Foundation, and his personal struggles , his death — as well as the deaths of Sydney Aiello and the unidentified student — is a tragic reminder that even as the media, and lawmakers, and the public moves on from mass tragedies, those who experienced them sort through the trauma for years.

In the wake of Jeremy’s death, a GoFundMe page called “Continuing Jeremy’s Mission”  has been set up by Silicon Valley investor Ron Conway to collect donations for the Avielle Foundation. So far, it has raised nearly $137,000.