Colo. theater victim families question fundraising
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Families of some of the 12 people killed in the Colorado theater shooting are upset with the way the millions of dollars raised since the tragedy are being distributed.
At an emotional news conference Tuesday in Aurora, group spokesman Tom Teves, whose son was killed, criticized fundraisers for not giving victims a voice in how the money is distributed, even though it was raised using the pictures and names of “our murdered loved ones.”
So far, just over $5 million has been raised and $450,000 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.
Teves accused fundraising groups of being unresponsive and unsympathetic to victims’ needs. He 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 that ‘We will remember.’ 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 also 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,” Brown said.
Victims and their families crowded on the platform behind Teves, some dabbing their eyes. Joshua Nowlan, who was wounded in the attack, used a cane and had a splint up to his knee.
Teves said anyone in the theater or in the suspect’s apartment building who was affected by the “coward’s acts” should be eligible to receive help.
The suspect in the July 20 shooting, 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, is charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.
Only a handful of family members of the slain victims have spoken publicly, and most of their comments came in the first few days after the shooting.
Marla J. Williams, president the Community First Foundation, charged by Hickenlooper to operate the relief fund, 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 had 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.
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.
Police said Holmes was heavily armed and wearing body armor and a gas mask when he opened fire on the audience in a packed theater in the Denver suburb of Aurora during a showing of the latest Batman movie.
In addition to the 12 killed, 58 were injured.
Holmes is being held without bail and has not entered a plea. Defense lawyers have said he is mentally ill.
Holmes was a first-year Ph.D. student in a neuroscience program at the University of Colorado, Denver. He told university officials about six weeks before the shootings that he was withdrawing.
Prosecutors have said Holmes failed an oral board exam June 7, at about the same time he began buying weapons and ammunition.
Prosecutors are seeking the university’s records on Holmes and also want to see a notebook that Holmes reportedly sent to university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton. Fenton is expected to testify at a hearing Thursday.
Defense lawyers are fighting prosecution attempts to see the material.
Investigators, attorneys on both sides and the university have said little about the case outside court hearings, citing the gag order.
Many court documents have been kept secret as well.
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