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Aurora massacre: Families again ask about $5 million in donations

September 14, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • Thomas Teves, right, kisses his wife, Caren, at an Aug. 28 news conference by families of victims of the theater shooting rampage in Aurora, Colo. They lost their son Alexander Teves, 24, in the shooting.
Thomas Teves, right, kisses his wife, Caren, at an Aug. 28 news conference… (Chris Schneider / Associated…)

AURORA, Colo. -- Their numbers were smaller than when they first gathered, but their anger was still raw, this time tinged with a weariness over a fight the victims and families of those killed and wounded in the Aurora theater massacre they say should never have happened.

“There have been two tragedies in Aurora. The first was the theater shooting. The second is how the victims have been treated by the powers that be,” said Tom Teves, the father of Alex Teves, who was killed in the July 20 rampage at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Teves has emerged as a spokesman for a group of victims of the attack that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.

PHOTOS: Movie theater shooting

Sixteen days ago, he and 17 other family members and victims crowded onto a tiny stage at an Aurora meeting hall for the first time to ask what happened to more than $5 million in donations raised for their loved ones. They also charged that they had been shut out of the process to distribute the funds.

On Thursday, only Teves and seven other family members and victims gathered and far fewer reporters attended for what Teves has said will be the last news conference on the matter. One by one they stepped forward to pay tribute to those lost, repeating, “We will remember.”

Reading from a prepared statement and taking no questions, Teves said his group had been repeatedly misled by Community First Foundation, which oversees the Aurora Victim Relief Fund that has been flooded with donations from across the country in the eight weeks since the shooting.

He said his group has also been misled by the 7/20 Recovery Committee about who gets final say in how the money  be divided. The coalition, made up of 30 community groups, health professionals and Aurora city officials, is in charge of making distribution recommendations. Teves says he was first told the victims would get final say but now they are being told the foundation can override their wishes.

Calls to Community First for comment were not returned. Instead, a news release was sent to reporters by email that says in part: “The 7/20 Recovery Committee remains committed to a robust and inclusive process that honors the input of all victims, and not just the voices of a few.” It further states meetings with family members will continue and so far there has been “a very wide variety of opinions on the work ahead.”

After the Aug. 28 news conference sparked outrage, Community First leaders said they would allow victims to have a voice in the process.  Last week, victims were sent a three-page survey that promised “100% of the Aurora Victims Relief Fund will be used exclusively to help meet the needs of the victims.”

The survey lays out two disbursement possibilities. One would evenly divide the money among all victims,  including those killed and wounded, and others in the theater the night of the shooting, and those displaced from their homes as authorities dismantled the booby traps in the apartment of suspect James E. Holmes. The second would divide it according to an individual needs assessment.

The letter accompanying the survey says the models are based on those used to distribute funds after other tragedies, including those at  Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Teves accused the 7/20 Recovery Committee of trying to “pit victim against victim.” He further said the foundation “believes the Aurora Victim Relief Fund is theirs” and worries it will keep the substantial amount of interest accruing on the $5 million being held.

The foundation has said it hopes to have the distribution plan in place by early November.

Immediately after the shooting, Community First, along with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, co-founded the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. Donations could be made through the online arm of the foundation called GivingFirst.org.

In late August, each of the 70 families of those killed or wounded received a $5,000 check from the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance for immediate needs – totaling $350,000  – with a promise of more to come. An additional was $100,000 was taken from the fund and divided among 10 community nonprofit groups to help victims.

“That $5,000 was an insult, a bone tossed to the crowd,” scoffed Scott Larimer of Crystal Lake, Ill., whose son, John Larimer, was killed.

“We’re 1,000 miles away from Aurora, Colo., and I find the way this has come together  – or not come together – is really disheartening,” Larimer said a telephone interview. He said the layers of bureaucracy are by design to obscure the way the fund is being handled.

He says the focus for victims and families should be in healing, and if there is anger it should be directed at the suspect, not at the charity that is supposed to be helping them. “I hold them in total contempt,” he said.

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