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Aurora massacre: Funds to reach theater victims next month

October 15, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • Tom Teves, spokesman of families of the victims of the Colorado theater shooting, speaks during an August news conference in Aurora. The group had complained that a victims' fund was being mishandled.
Tom Teves, spokesman of families of the victims of the Colorado theater… (Chris Schneider / Associated…)

DENVER — Nearly $5 million raised for the victims of the Aurora movie theater massacrewill be distributed next month, with the bulk of it going to families of the 12 who died and to those most gravely wounded, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooperannounced Monday.

The distribution equation was determined by Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who has overseen the distribution of billions of dollars in other funds, including for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting and the 2010 BP oil spill.

Hickenlooper asked Feinberg last month to step in to help calm the controversy over how money donated to the Aurora Victim Relief Fund was being handled and to speed its distribution.

TIMELINE: U.S. mass shootings

Twelve people died and at least 58 were injured when a gunman opened fire early  July 20 during a packed post-midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Within hours, money began pouring in from around the world to help the victims. The current fund balance is $4,961,000.

Feinberg said the Aurora distribution model closely resembles the one he crafted for Virginia Tech victims. About 70% of the money will be divided between immediate family members of those who died and the survivors who face permanent brain damage or paralysis. It is estimated those families will receive about $200,000 each, although the final figure will not be known until all claims are submitted and the final amount of the fund totaled.  Victims have until Nov. 1 to make a claim, and the fund will be closed Nov. 15.

The calculation for the injured victims was determined by the length of their hospital stay. It falls into three categories: those hospitalized 20 days or more; those hospitalized eight to 19 days; and those in the hospital one to seven days.  

Feinberg announced at a public meeting Friday that there was not enough money in the fund to cover emotional or psychological injuries, nor for those treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting.

“It’s always subjective,” Feinberg said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times  this month. He said the speed of distribution to those with the most obvious need trumped special circumstances such as heroism in the theater or the desire of a victim to get out of the hospital quickly.

”You cannot get bogged down by looking behind the claim,” he said. He added that he didn’t want to see medical records because he thought the amount of time in the hospital was a good snapshot of the severity of injuries.

He also said he would not act as referee in family squabbles over the money. Should that arise, he said, the claim will be put in a trust in probate court and families can fight it out there.

Feinberg waived his fee for the Aurora case.

The Aurora Victim Relief Fund has been troubled by accusations of misappropriation by some victims' family members who said that the millions of dollars raised using their loved ones’ pictures was being held hostage by Community First Foundation, a Denver foundation that oversaw the fund.

In August, some  family members held an emotional news conference saying they had received only $5,000 each and that some of the fund had been given instead to local nonprofit groups. They also complained that they were shut out of the decision-making process on how the money should be divided.

On Oct. 9, some family members delivered letters to the Colorado attorney general and secretary of state asking for an investigation and an audit into how Community First handled the fund. Hickenlooper said in a news release Monday that an audit would begin immediately after funds are distributed.

“I’m just glad to see this thing is getting done,” said Melisa Cowden, whose former husband and father of her four children was killed in the theater. “There is no amount of money that will ever replace the loss of a father,” she said in an interview Monday. But she added she was grateful to the public for wanting to help and thanked them for “this gift to my children.”


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