Parkland, Sandy Hook suicides put focus on mental health, grief

by Leila MACOR

MIAMI, United States (AFP) — The community of Parkland was grieving Monday after a second student took their life a little over a year following the shooting at the Florida town’s high school that left 17 people dead.

As Parkland was mourning, the authorities said the father of a child killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, had apparently committed suicide.

Jeremy Richman, 49, lost his six-year-old daughter, Avielle, in the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six staff members.

“This is awful, horrible, devastating news,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy said on Twitter, reacting to reports of Richman’s death.

“He was just here in Parkland last week,” said Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina was among the 14 students killed in the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Three adults were also killed.

“He was here meeting with some of the families here, helping us,” Petty said. “It’s just heartbreaking to know that he was suffering.”

In Florida, the head of the Emergency Management Division urged the state legislature to devote more resources to helping survivors of the school shooting in Parkland.

“Mental health is a bipartisan issue,” Jared Moskowitz said on Twitter. “While we are in session NOW is the time.”

Moskowitz’s appeal followed two suicides over the past week — one of a former student at Stoneman Douglas and one of a current student.

Sydney Aiello, 19, a Florida Atlantic University student whose best friend, Meadow Pollack, died in the attack at Stoneman Douglas, committed suicide last week.

Her mother told a local television station that Aiello had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and with “survivor’s guilt” following the school shooting.

‘Still at risk’

The second suicide victim has not been publicly identified.

According to the authorities, the student was currently enrolled at Stoneman Douglas and took his own life on Saturday.

Parkland parents, students, teachers and county officials held a gathering on Sunday to discuss providing more support to the community.

“Today was the first of many meetings with all city, county and mental health experts in order to make sure our students, teachers and parents receive the education they need to prevent the next suicide,” Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was among those killed at Stoneman Douglas, said on Twitter.

Petty told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that “we have students and staff that are still at risk.”

“We have to recognize after an event like this there is trauma, anxiety and depression,” Petty told the newspaper. “We have to educate parents and teachers to recognize the signs and ask the right questions.”

David Hogg, an 18-year-old Parkland survivor who has become a leader of a Stoneman Douglas student-led movement for gun control, tweeted: “Rip 17+2.”

“How many more kids have to be taken from us as a result of suicide for the government/school district to do anything?” Hogg asked.

Stoneman Douglas students have became crusaders against gun violence under the banner “March for Our Lives,” lobbying for tougher gun control laws and organizing protests and rallies across the United States.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls spoke out following the suicides.

“It’s horrific that the Parkland and Sandy Hook communities continue to endure even more loss,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted.

“We must take real action to end our gun violence epidemic and do everything we can to support the families who have been affected by this crisis.”

California Senator Kamala Harris said she was “absolutely heartbroken.”

“Gun violence affects so many lives and we must do better to help each other heal after such tragedies,” Harris tweeted.

© Agence France-Presse