Avielle Richman fell in love with Iowa during a road trip to her mother’s childhood home last year.
Now a foundation that bears her name is looking to the Midwestern state and elsewhere for donations to research the origins of violent behavior.
Six-year-old Avielle was among the 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Six educators also were killed.
Avielle's mother, Jennifer Hensel, said Monday that she has received many letters and donations from Iowans since she established the Avielle Foundation with her husband, Jeremy Richman.
“I’m so proud to be from Iowa,” said Hensel, who grew up in the Jackson County community of Sabula.
More work needs to be done and more donations sought. Hensel said the Avielle Foundation’s goal this year is to raise $5 million for brain health research.
Hensel and Richman, both scientists, announced Monday the creation of a three-member scientific board for the foundation. Hensel said that more research into brain health might help prevent another Newtown-type tragedy.
“Some have called for new gun laws and some demand safer schools,” Hensel said. “We are scientists. We need to play to our strengths and go to the why. Why would somebody do this?”
She said coping with the death of her only daughter has been a “tremendous burden,” and she said working on the foundation is a way to honor her memory.
“For any parent who loses a child, you want to hear that name as often as possible,” Hensel said.
Among the memories is the trip to Sabula last summer. Hensel said she wanted Avielle to see the place where Hensel grew up.
A graduate of East Central High School, Hensel married Richman, and the couple and their daughter moved to Connecticut from San Diego, Calif., in 2011.
Sabula is about an hour’s drive north of the Quad-Cities. Hensel’s parents, Thomas and Judith Hensel, still live there.