Theater victims say donations not reaching them


AURORA | Victims of last month’s Aurora theater shootings say the more than $5 million raised since the massacre is not reaching the victims and they have been largely shut out of conversations about the fund’s future.

In an emotional hour-long press conference Tuesday a few blocks from the theater where 12 were killed and 58 injured, survivors of the shooting and relatives of those killed said money has been slow to reach them.

Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the theater, said that even though the victims’ names and faces have been used to raise money for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund, that money isn’t reaching the families.

Teves said the group making decisions about how the money will be distributed has been made up of officials from the Community First Foundation, nonprofit leaders and local lawmakers.

“Victims, however, still have no voice in the disbursement process,” he said.

Teves said it’s particularly important that victims be represented on the board that will decide how the money is distributed.

The victims have a unique perspective and, Teves said, and they were the people donors had in mind when the gave money to the fund.

That means victims and their relatives should make up a “robust” segment of any board, and not just have a small percentage of votes on that board.

“We need people who were in the theater together with those who have lost loved ones driving these decisions,” he said.

Teves said he and others are using an “extremely inclusive definition” of who a victim is, which includes everyone in the theater who was hurt physically or emotionally, as well as anyone who lived in the apartment complex where accused shooter James Holmes lived. Police said Holmes booby-trapped the apartment, forcing nearby residents to flee while investigators disarmed the traps.

Teves said the definition should also include people like his son’s girlfriend, who has not been able to return to work since the shooting.

“She is broken inside,” he said.

Rich Audsley, a special adviser to the committee who previously helped distribute victims funds after the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings, said victims will be consulted throughout the process.

“It was always our intent to have input for the victims into the process,” he said.

Audsley said the group just established an executive committee last week that will make many of those decisions.

“We really needed to have that group constituted before we could have those conversations,” he said.

The executive committee does not have any victims on it, but Audsley said victims will be consulted throughout the process. The executive group as well as the 7/20 Recovery Committee as a whole will change based on the group’s needs, he said.

“We want to go through a thoughtful process to make sure that the victim input is integrated, but we don’t think that the victims should be making the decisions themselves on what that distribution would look like,” he said.

The process will include determining just how big the pool of victims that qualify for help will be and trying to dole the money out in a fair manner, he said. That means some challenging questions when it comes to victims who will suffer life-long disabilities and others who were emotionally traumatized by the shootings.

“There are just a lot of moving factors in this so we want to make sure that we have a thoughtful process because we only get a chance to do this once and we want to get it right,” he said.

Teves said there have been several conversations with the officials in charge of the fund, but still, victims are not getting the funding donors hoped they would.

“I’m not saying they don’t care about the victims, but I haven’t seen any evidence yet,” he said of the officials behind the relief fund.

Victims at Tuesday’s press conference said that after weeks of complaints to Giving First, the group cut $5,000 checks to 70 victims, but that’s it.

Some victims said the group has declined to provide them with money for plane tickets to come to Colorado for the accused shooter’s court hearings. Others said they need cash now because in the aftermath of the shooting, they have been unable to work because the bulk of their time is spent caring for the injured.

With victims and their families crowded on the platform behind him, Teves accused fundraising groups of being unresponsive and unsympathetic to victims’ needs and also questioned the commitment of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to helping the victims, noting that the governor had attended the funerals of those who died in the shooting.

“You pledged 12 times, ‘We will remember.’ Are you a man of your words? Or were they just words?”

Eric Brown, a spokesman for Hickenlooper, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the governor understands the families are frustrated.

“That’s why we have been advocating for them to have a greater voice in the process. We have also actively supported the 7/20 Recovery Committee to improve communication and the ongoing distribution of assistance,” he said.

The families are scheduled to meet with the committee Friday, he said.

In the days after the shooting, Hickenlooper pointed donors toward Giving First, saying it was a safe place to donate.

Since then, officials have said the fund has raised more than $5 million for the victims.  So far, just over $450,000 has been distributed. Of that, $350,000 went to the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance in order to provide $5,000 each going to the families of 70 victims to meet their immediate financial needs. The other $100,000 has gone to 10 nonprofit groups, according to the Community First Foundation website.

Officials have said decisions about how the money will be doled out will be made in the near future.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.