FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The community of Parkland, Florida, is focusing attention on its suicide prevention programs after two survivors of the Florida high school massacre killed themselves in a week.
Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky said Monday that community leaders, government officials, parents, police and others held an emergency meeting Sunday after a second Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student apparently killed himself over the weekend. That came a week after a recent graduate, who was close friends with victim Meadow Pollack, killed herself after her family said she suffered from survivor's guilt.
Also Monday, police in Connecticut said the father of one of the 20 children slain at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 was found dead in an apparent suicide.
Newtown police say the body of 49-year-old Jeremy Richman was found inside a Newtown event center where he had an office. Richman was the father of first-grader Avielle Richman. He and his wife had created The Avielle Foundation, a group dedicating to preventing violence by seeking a better understanding of brain health.
Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse Lewis, also was killed at the school, said the Sandy Hook families' grief has been compounded by the publicity and conspiracy theories surrounding the tragedy. He noted Richman was among the Sandy Hook relatives suing Infowars host Alex Jones for saying the Newtown shooting never happened.
"Every day you get up you expect to get punched in the chin with something," Heslin said. "I give Jeremy credit for what he accomplished with his work and his amazing strength that grew through the years."
The Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas killed 14 students and three staff members and wounded 17 others. Some students have begun counting the two suicides among the victims of the attack.
Getting urgent counseling resources to students could be more difficult because the school is on spring break this week.
Hunschofsky said the biggest push will be to alert parents that they need to talk to their children about whether they are having suicidal thoughts and outline the danger signs for them, such as personality changes or a preoccupation with death. The groups also want students to talk to and look out for each other, and note that programs already are in place — community counseling and resource centers opened after the shooting — where they can seek help.
"There are lots of resources out there, but everyone is in a different place with different levels of trauma and grief. It is our job to get the right resources to them," she said. "There can never be enough resources, but the challenge is connecting people."
Hunschofsky said that while there is concern the two suicides could lead to more, it is more dangerous not to discuss what happened.
"We cannot be afraid of talking — the only way we are going to identify people who need help is to talk about it," she said.
In neighboring Coral Springs, where about half of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students live, spokeswoman Lynne Martzelle said the city will host a community anti-suicide prevention forum on Wednesday.
"The tragedy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas didn't end on the 14th," she said.
Cara Aiello told WFOR-TV last week that her daughter Sydney had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled to attend college because she feared being in a classroom, but never asked for help. Aiello killed herself last week.
Coral Springs police officer Tyler Reik confirmed Monday that another student apparently killed himself Saturday, but said an official determination has not been made. That should happen later Monday.
In Connecticut, the governor, two U.S. senators and other elected officials expressed condolences over the death of Richman, who had become well-known through his advocacy work.
"My god. This is awful, horrible, devastating news," U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy wrote on Twitter. "Jeremy was a good friend and an unceasing advocate for better research into the brain's violence triggers. He was with me in my office two weeks ago, excited as could be about the Avielle Foundation's latest amazing work."
Newtown Police Lt. Aaron Bahamonde said Richman left a suicide note, but not disclose its contents.
Associated Press writer Dave Collins contributed to this report from Hartford, Conn.