Colo. theater victim families question fundraising
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Anguished family members of some of the Colorado theater shooting victims lashed out at a fundraising campaign Tuesday, saying it collected more than $5 million "using pictures and names of our murdered loved ones" but so far has given no more than $5,000 each to families facing bills for medical treatment, travel and other expenses from the attack.
The families also said they've been shut out of decisions on how the money should be spent and that fundraisers were unresponsive to their questions and suggestions.
"When you generate donations for a fund called 'the Aurora Victim Relief Fund' using pictures and names of our murdered loved ones, it would stand to reason the fund is for victims of the Aurora shooting," said Tom Teves, whose son Alex was one of 12 people killed in the July 20 shootings. Another 58 people were wounded, and many of them face long recoveries or permanent disability.
At a sometimes-emotional news conference, Teves read a seven-page statement demanding the fundraisers give the victims and their families a say in how the money is used and questioning why so far only a relatively small portion, $350,000, was being distributed to the victims.
Teves said the statement was on behalf of 11 families. Eighteen other people crowded onto a small platform behind him, some dabbing their eyes with tissues, clasping hands or leaning on each other.
The Community First Foundation, asked by Gov. John Hickenlooper to operate the relief fund, said on its website it has raised just over $5 million for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. The foundation announced on Aug. 17 that it would give $350,000 to the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance to distribute among the surviving victims and the families of those who died. Earlier, it said another $100,000 was given to 10 nonprofit groups.
Marla J. Williams, president the Community First Foundation, said a gag order imposed by Arapahoe County District Judge William Blair Sylvester made it difficult to find all the victims and their families.
She said a group has been set up to recommend how to spend the donations but no victims' representatives have been chosen yet.
"I don't know who represents the victims. There are a number of people who were involved," she said, adding that the group at Tuesday's news conference did not represent all the victims.
Williams said she worries that Tuesday's statement will give donors second thoughts.
"I'm sad because I think there are people who have been very generous and contributors who might think their money has not been used wisely," she said.
The 37-year-old Community First Foundation supports community programs in the metropolitan Denver area.
Nancy Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, said the victims and the agencies involved want the same thing: "They want healing for all the crime victims."
She said Sylvester's gag order prevented her from commenting further.
Sylvester issued an order on Aug. 16 barring the organization from releasing names and contact information for the victims. The order does not appear to place any other restrictions on the group.
Teves said the families were humbled by the amount of the donations, and grateful. He said none were speaking out just to get money.
"We have nothing to gain as the families of the murder victims," he said. "We have already lost everything."
He said anyone who was in the theater at the time of the shooting or lived in the same building as the suspect — who police said had booby-trapped his apartment — should be eligible to receive help.
Teves insisted the families' purpose wasn't to attack the fundraising groups or the government.
"All we're saying is, 'Listen to us. We have unique knowledge and unique skillsets that we can bring to bear to make this better for all the victims. Why are we shunned to the outside?' That's what this is about."
A meeting is scheduled Friday between victims' families and officials of the fundraising campaign.
Teves challenged Hickenlooper, who attended the slain victims' funerals, to step in and help the families get a say.
"You pledged 12 times that 'We will remember,'" Teves said. "Are you a man who is true to his words, or were they just words?"
Hickenlooper's spokesman, Eric Brown, said the governor understands the families' frustration and is advocating for them to have more say. He said Hickenlooper also wants the fundraisers to improve their communication with the families.
Brown praised the generosity of donors and said the victims would get more money.
"Everyone involved is trying to do the right thing in a very difficult situation," he said.
The suspect in the shootings, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. He has not entered a plea. The next hearing in the case is Thursday.
Associated Press writers Steven K. Paulson and P. Solomon Banda contributed to this report.
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