Before her suicide, Sandy Hook's father researched the origins of violence in the brain


"I remember asking," Why would anyone enter a school and kill my child? "Jennifer Hensel told Anderson Cooper in 2013." I need to know this answer, I must have that answer. "

To find this answer, Hensel and her husband, Jeremy Richman, used their unique expertise. They were both scientists and Richman was a long-time experienced neuroscientist in the study of the human brain. A few days after the mass shootings, they set out on a mission to unravel the dark motives in the minds of violent offenders who urge them to act.

Richman has diligently examined what we know and do not know about our behavior, by translating complex neurological concepts and generating statistics on our overall spending on the fight against violence. Richman was patient but urgent.

"We have to really focus on brain science and be comfortable talking about behavioral science," he said. "We must make visible the invisible."

He was a public face for a growing group of people, including researchers, law enforcement officials and victims of violent tragedies. The tide of gun control discussions often eclipsed their requests for extra research and they wanted to talk more about mental illness.

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Linking the study of violent behavior with people with mental illness would only demonize an essentially non-violent group, said Terrie Moffitt, a fellow neuroscientist who teaches at Duke University and who is the # 1 student. Richman's friend.

"He has already said that for ages, the survival of humans depends on their ability to build relationships and trust them," wrote Moffitt in an e-mail. "The human brain is designed to love, so if people suddenly become violent towards their fellow innocents, there must be something fundamentally wrong in their brains."

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Doctors never tell a patient "you are the flu" or "you are a broken bone". However, Richman complained that, in our mental state, we are hitting the patient with the illness he has: "You are hyperactive". "You are bipolar." "You are depressed."

This label stigmatizes a person and can cause people to blame themselves when dangerous thoughts break in. We admit that the stomach and the heart are real things, but we always consider the mind as an abstract concept when, in fact, what is happening in the world. the brain can have tangible origins, he explained.

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"What we mean is that our behaviors come from the brain," Richman said. "We need to move away from the feeling of a character judgment or an imperfect person so that people are afraid to ask for help for themselves or for their loved ones."

The families of the victims of the schools who fired shots have long echoed the same call. In 2015, I spoke to Joseph Samaha for the New York Times. He lost his daughter Reema at the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 and was leading an initiative of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation to help university campus staff alert the right people when they noticed something was wrong. not go with the behavior of a student. In this case, teachers were alarmed by the writings of the armed man and alerted the authorities, actions that did not ultimately prevent the death of 33 people.

The warning signs surrounding the shooter's violent thoughts haunted Samaha and other relatives long after the shooting.

"It's science," said Samaha on the Virginia Tech campus in 2015. "It's the longest road – it's the seed we really need to plant."

It's called neuroscience

Brain scans have become increasingly sensitive over the years, and data scientists have improved the methods of interpreting all of this data.

Researchers called neurocriminologists have been studying the science behind antisocial, violent and criminal behavior for decades.

Adrian Raine, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote the book on violent minds and became a friend of Richman. His discoveries over the past 40 years have been instrumental in the field. is a board member of the Richman Avielle Foundation.
Much of Raine's work involves directly examining the brains of convicted criminals with the aid of brain scans. The technology used by Raine has undergone an astronomical development in recent decades, but its use is not yet without skepticism.
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Analyzes and other forms of biological field research have been illuminating. One of Raine the results showed a correlation between criminal behavior and malfunction of the anterior part of the brain, or the prefrontal cortex. The criminals he has often studied planning and decision-making without the ability to see the consequences. Psychopaths, usually very functional, had tonsil problems. This explains the lack of remorse of serial killers because they have little ability to empathize with those who suffer.
Criminology research also focuses on the limbic system. It regulates emotions such as fear, hunger, anger and anxiety and is composed of thalamus, hippocampus and amygdala. If the limbic system works well with this prefrontal cortex, it pushes us to act but also moves us away if we go too far. The limbic system builds a kind of memory of experiences that invoke feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment.

We may be so angry that we want to do something about it, but we know intrinsically that it could be the wrong choice. It is both a scholarly answer and a biological answer.

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Nevertheless, the urge to address the social factors behind violent behavior took center stage before tackling the biological component, says Raine.

"I think the public is now much more aware than before about the idea that brain differences shape, to some degree, individual differences in violence," wrote Raine in an email. "But to what extent this information can be used to prevent violence is a different problem."

There is no debate when it comes to nature vs feeding

Therapy is a well-established way of helping people when bad thoughts creep in. It's a behavioral science that helps to take into account our environment and the way we treat it. This is the nurturing part of the old saying "Nature vs. Feeding". This question attempts to determine the extent to which a person's behavior is influenced by their biology or genetic make-up and to what extent by the people and the stress that surrounds them.

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Both are important, experts agree. In fact, they affect each other. Research suggests that child abuse or workplace stress can affect our behavior and feelings, as well as brain chemistry.

Researchers have identified chemical imbalances correlated with problems such as depression, for example, and are using treatments such as Prozac or Zoloft, which block the reabsorption of serotonin so that a greater amount of it can float in the brain. The more serotonin floats, the happier we feel.

Neuroscientists are finding that the problem is that all the research we've done on what's going on in the brain does not go far enough. The scientist Anthony Walsh spent two decades in law enforcement before embarking on a career exploring criminal drives that he pursued as an investigator. He is now a professor at Boise State University who, like others in his field, deplores the lack of funding for research. More studies can help validate what criminologists have discovered and contribute to prevention, he said.

"The brain is an extremely complex organ, and perhaps we know maybe 10% of what we should know," said Walsh. "Almighty God, all this takes place in a small drop of 3 pounds of Jell-O's. It's just amazing."

Jeremy Richman and his wife spoke to Anderson Cooper in 2013. Richman encouraged people to talk openly about brain health in the same way that we openly talk about the health of the body.

Why does driving rage cause some to silence a finger while others derail? Why does anger make some scream and scream, while others abuse and kill?

The Avielle Foundation has funded studies throughout its years at Duke University, the University of Northern Colorado, and so on. A study on twins that she funded very early at the University of Michigan then received a much larger grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. He compares identical twins and paternal twins to help understand how antisocial behavior is affected by the environment in relation to genetics.
Richman and his colleagues at the foundation were also regulars at Capitol Hill and helped to inform legislation on mental health reform. He and founding co-founder Ace Robinson were at the side of then Vice President Joe Biden when he announced $ 100 million in additional funding for mental health services. 2013.

Robinson said the mission of the foundation is to raise funds for treatment and awareness, but also to educate the public. He said that Richman had faced the tragedy of Sandy Hook by going beyond the actions of that person who killed his daughter's life. Instead, he wanted to talk about all the social and biological forces that drove the shooter to action.

"Jeremy is someone who has loved deeply and intensely," Robinson said. "You've never heard the family talk about a mass murderer in particular.They said," What structures are in place to make sure we understand what is happening and make changes? ""

Richman believed that the antisocial and violent impulses within him were perhaps not the "fault" of a person, but could in part be biological, and their understanding would help people understand how much they really need help. And that would be an advantage for us all.

Work continues

After Richman's death, a supporter and a friend created a GoFundMe page to support the Avielle Foundation, Hensel and their two young children.
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Hensel used this page to address supporters a few days after his appearance: "The work of the Avielle Foundation is significant, but my champion and my love of my life is the person who had all the tools in the toolbox He has succumbed to the sorrow of not being able to escape it, and now we are honoring Jeremy for the continued work of our foundation. "

Richman hoped that people would better understand the spirit in all contexts, not just violence but loneliness, sadness and despair. As the number of shootings in schools continues to increase, suicide is also increasing.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy was sitting in his office with Richman only two weeks before his death. They were trying to find ways to expand the reach of the foundation because Richman was never convinced that they were adequately informing people about how the brain could be harmful.

"It's Jeremy Richman who understood the brain and how he tries to make you sink into violence, and he did not find a way to deal with the problems he was struggling with," he said. Murphy. "It shows how difficult it is for everyone who experiences trauma."

In an interview with ABC Radio, Richman talked about his daily struggles. He said that the time since the death of his daughter was a "grief of infinite love". But there was hope to help. When asked what everyone could do to help, Richman said, "Have discussions about brain health, talk about your feelings and motivations, and recognize that the brain does not have a brain." is another organ, lack of character if you feel depressed ".

"What has hit me hard at Jeremy's is his ability to look beyond personal tragedy and recognize that we desperately need to understand the causes of violence to prevent future ones." tragedies, "wrote Raine in an email. "This requires both tremendous emotional courage and a lucid and unbiased mentality."

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