Last week marked the 5-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. A recent piece by NPR checks in with the parents of Avielle Richman — a 6-year-old who was shot and killed at the school that day — to find out how scientific research is helping them heal. Avielle’s father, Jeremy Richman, is a neuroscientist, and her mom Jennifer Hensel is scientist as well. After the events in Newtown took their daughter, Jeremy and Jennifer started The Avielle Foundation to research brain health in hopes of gaining a better understanding violent behavior, something they feel is a public health epidemic.
According to the article, The Avielle Foundation’s research is striving to identifying how impulse control problems, violence, and compassion are tied to the circuits, chemistry, and structure of the brain. Jeremy Richman explains in the piece that he sees violence as a disease, and that by understanding the functions of the brain that lead to violent behavior we will be better equipped to protect against it. The foundation has funded three separate studies since its inception. One study produced results so strong that it has since received $7 million dollars in Federal grants to continue looking for more answers.
Richman’s hope is for people to start viewing the brain for what it is: a part of the body that can be unhealthy — just like any other organ. His goal for the foundation’s research and community engagement is to explain violence, not to excuse it.