Charitable Donations to Aurora Victim Relief Fund Still Undistributed

On July 20, 2012, Colorado residents lined up to view a midnight screening of the film “The Dark Knight Rises.” A gunman outfitted in tactical gear set off tear gas grenades, then opened fire with multiple firearms at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora. After the massacre, people across the nation and around the globe looked for ways to extend their sympathy and support.

James Eagan Holmes, who killed 12 and injured 58, was declared mentally ill and is scheduled to appear in the Arapahoe County Court District on September 20, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. MDT. Holmes waived his right to a preliminary hearing, facing 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder, in addition to assault weapons and explosives possession charges. Permitting, registration, and licensing are not mandated under current Colorado gun control laws.

According to a statement from Bonfils Blood Center, over 300 units of donated blood were provided to hospitals caring for those injured in the shooting. In addition, victims found themselves in need of direct support, mental health services, and travel assistance as the community attempted to grieve and recover from the worst mass shooting America has ever seen.

Early on, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tapped the Community First Foundation, and its donation program GivingFirst.org, to co-found the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. The Aurora Police Department requested that the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) also help coordinate donations on behalf of victims and their families.

These joined approximately 25 community and nonprofit organizations in establishing the 7/20 Recovery Committee to manage and administer charitable donations.

With help and hope from charitable donations, those victimized by the rampage killing struggle to move past the horrific incident, but believe they have been shut out of the process.

Less than one week after the shootings, $100,000 from the fund’s general public contributions were disbursed to 10 local nonprofit agencies to provide assistance to victims. Recipient organizations were members of the 7/20 Recovery Committee, including:

Aurora Mental Health Center, Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network, Mental Health America of Colorado, Bonfils Blood Center Foundation, Metro Crisis Services, Inc., Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, Community Reach Center, Jefferson Center for Mental Health, Safe2Tell, and Denver Center for Crime Victims.

On August 17, COVA received $350,000 from the Fund. Last week, COVA issued each of the 70 families of those killed or wounded a $5,000 check to meet immediate needs, with a promise of more to come.

Tom Teves, the father of Alex Teves, who was killed in the rampage, has emerged as the spokesperson for a group of Aurora’s victims:

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.

On August 28, nearly 20 family members and victims gathered, for the first time since the shooting, at an Aurora meeting hall to ask about the money raised for their loved ones. Many are still waiting to receive the donations raised on their behalf.

According to Teves, he was initially told the victims and their families would determine how the donations were to be distributed, but now is hearing that the foundation can override their wishes. Teves goes on to say that his group has been misled by the 7/20 Recovery Committee about who will determine how the money is divided. The coalition, comprised of 30 community groups, health professionals, and Aurora city officials, is in charge of making distribution recommendations. The committee does not have representative of the families or victims in its membership.

“When you generate funds for a relief fund called the Aurora Victims Relief Fund, using pictures and names of our murdered loved ones without our permission, it would stand to reason that the fund is for the victims of the Aurora shooting…

We’re certain that everyone who donated their hard-earned wages intended for 100% of the donations to go directly to the victims and then each family affected would use those funds for what they most needed to help their healing process. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.” –Tom Teves

In response to the Aug. 28 news conference, Community First Foundation issued a news release citing “a very wide variety of opinions on the work ahead,” and indicating that meetings with the family members will continue.

“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.”

This month, victims received 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 letter accompanying the survey cites two options for disbursement, modeled after similar tragedies experienced in other communities.

Option 1: 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.

Option 2: divide the Aurora Victim Relief funds according to an individual needs assessment, conducted sometime in the future.

On September 12, 2012, Community First Foundation released a statement of Aurora Victim Relief Fund. According to the report, the fund received nearly $5.3 million in charitable contributions since July 20.

Community First cites a total of $19,536 in third party fees (the Foundation’s own GivingFirst.org program) waived to date. The foundation has also waived administration fees to ensure 100% of all donations “are contributed to the Fund.”

Two months have passed since the shooting in Aurora. Victims have buried loved ones, amassed medical bills, lost work, and struggled to overcome the mental and emotional trauma of this terrible tragedy. The perpetrator will be tried this week, and for some, this will help them find closure; for others, it only exacerbates frustrations.

The entire Aurora community was victimized by this tragedy, and the world reached out to offer sympathy and support for the victims.

Over $4.8 million in charitable donations still remain undistributed.

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

Individual needs assessments take time, resources, and could further postpone the intended outcome behind donors’ charitable contributions for Aurora victims. The foundation aims to have a distribution plan in place by early November.

See this article for information on the IRS free webinar for starting and operating disaster relief charities.
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