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Colorado shooting victims still waiting to see donations

Victims and relatives of those killed in the Aurora movie theater massacre say they're being pushed out of the process to determine how $5 million is distributed.

September 16, 2012|By Jenny Deam
  • Tome Teves, whose son was killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, says victims and relatives are being shut out of the process to distribute a $5-million fund.
Tome Teves, whose son was killed in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting,… (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 they say should never have happened.

They are victims and families of those killed and wounded in the Aurora movie theater massacre, and they want to know what happened to $5 million in donations collected since the violence of July 20.

"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 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.

On Aug. 28, Teves and 17 other family members and victims crowded onto a tiny stage at an Aurora meeting hall for the first time to ask about the millions raised for their loved ones. They also charged that they had been shut out of the process to distribute the funds.

Last week, only Teves and seven others gathered and far fewer reporters attended for what Teves has said will be the last news conference on the matter. One by one the eight stepped forward to pay tribute to those lost, repeating, "We will remember."

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

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

Calls to Community First for comment were not returned. Instead, a news release was emailed to reporters 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 that 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. This month, victims were sent a three-page survey that promised "100% of the Aurora Victim 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 the wounded and the families of those killed, as well as 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 in nearby Littleton and at Virginia Tech.

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, cofounded the Aurora Victim Relief Fund.

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 $100,000 was taken from the fund and divided among 10 community nonprofit groups to help victims.

national@latimes.com

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