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Sandy Hook father links brain health and behavior at Our Kids: Our Business reception

Jeremy Richman, who lost a daughter during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and now studies the link between the brain and violence, spoke during the annual Our Kids: Our Business reception Wednesday. (Ryan Collingwood / The Spokesman-Review)
Jeremy Richman, who lost a daughter during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and now studies the link between the brain and violence, spoke during the annual Our Kids: Our Business reception Wednesday. (Ryan Collingwood / The Spokesman-Review)

Days after Jeremy Richman’s 6-year-old daughter, Avielle, died – one among dozens killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 – the neuropharmacologist vowed to pin down the links between the brain and violent behavior.

Clad in a purple-hooded shirt and khakis, a casual but keen Richman spoke to an audience packed with Spokane public officials and anti-child abuse advocates Wednesday at Gonzaga University for the Our Kids: Our Business’ annual reception.

For the past six years, since founding the Avielle foundation with his wife and fellow scientist Jennifer, Richman has visited cities across the country to discuss their research.

In Spokane, a city the 48-year-old Connecticut man described as beautiful and engaged, Richman spoke about the brain and human behavior in concrete terms.

“The brain is a wondrous organ, and, like other organs, it can be healthy and unhealthy,” Richman said. “It’s the organ that houses our memories, feelings and behaviors. If you don’t take care of it, the consequences of the behaviors aren’t going to be healthy, (and will) eventually be abnormal.

“They could be violent in nature, but it’s a matter of chemistry and structure and at the end of the day, we can take care of that, study it scientifically, look at the risk factors,” he went on. “And we have the responsibility to do so.”

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl opened the reception by noting that his top priority is the prevention of child and family trauma.

Meidl believes that a stable, supportive and safe home life is paramount in child’s development.

“Family violence and family trauma, it’s cyclical,” Meidl said. “Our kids see it. They’re around it, they’re exposed to it. When they grow up in that environment, like when a child sees dad beating up on mom, they think it’s normal. But it’s not. Then when they grow up and get into a relationship, they do the same thing.”

Meidl was among a throng of local leaders in attendance, including Spokane councilman Mike Fagan, councilwoman Candace Mumm, Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney and Spokane Fire Department Chief Brian Schaeffer.

Our kids: Our business, a Spokane-based coalition whose mission is to help end child abuse through awareness, education, resources and collaboration, also doled out awards during the reception.

The foundation’s president, Ryan Oelrich, awarded Director of Youth Services of America-Eastern Washington/North Bridget Cannon, Little Scholars Early Learning Center, and CASA Partners for their work in helping stifle child abuse.

Richman’s name came up as a speaker in response to community needs following the shooting at Freeman High School last fall that left one student dead and three injured.

With the recent marches following the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, Richman said he’s felt encouraged by seeing the youth of America advocate for change.

“I am certainly reinvigorated and motivated by this fantastic engagement of our youth as of recent,” he said. “That excites me, because the future lies in their imaginations.”

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