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Theater shooting funds: Money suggested for death and physical injury, not psychological kind

Ken Feinberg, the "special master" of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund, stood Thursday night in a suit and tie before a couple dozen theater shooting victims at the Aurora library and explained his idea for doling out the more than $5 million in donations to the fund: The "bulk of the money" to the families of the twelve who died and the half-dozen who were permanently injured in the theater shooting, the rest to those who were shot but not as badly and none, unfortunately, to those who weren't hurt but who witnessed the carnage.

"Currently, the view is there's not enough money for psychological injuries," Feinberg said in response to a question. "There were 400 people in that theater. ... We don't have enough money. The psychologically injured should be eligible. I'm not saying they don't have a valid claim. But you're taking money away from the physically injured, the dead, the life-altering injuries."

The meeting was the first of two scheduled; the next is slated to take place this morning at 9 a.m. Last night's was attended by about thirty people, most of whom were victims.

Mike White, Sr. was in the theater that night with his girlfriend, his daughter, his son and his son's girlfriend. The latter two were injured, with his son's girlfriend, Farrah Soudani, hurt badly. White listened to Feinberg last night and afterward said he likes the direction the special master is going -- with one exception. "Originally, I heard that all victims in theater 9," where the shooting happened, would get some money, White said. "Even if you didn't get injured, something should go to those victims, too."

Ken Feinberg addresses the crowd last night at the Aurora library.
Ken Feinberg addresses the crowd last night at the Aurora library.
Melanie Asmar

But as of now, that's not in the works. Feinberg said he thinks 75 percent of the money should go to the families of the dead and those with life-altering injuries, such as paralysis -- and that all of those people should get the same amount. "All lives are equal," he said. "I'm not God. I'm not Solomon. I can't say this person should get more than that person."

The rest would be distributed among those who suffered injuries such as broken arms and shattered hips. The amount each injured person receives would be based on how long they spent in the hospital; the longer their stay, the more money they would get. For example, a person who spent two or fewer days in the hospital would get x dollars, Feinberg said. A person who spent three to nine days would get x plus y dollars, and a person who spent more than nine days would get x plus y plus z dollars, he explained. "Hospitalization as evidence of seriousness of injury," Feinberg said repeatedly.

Continue reading for more on last night's meeting.   Feinberg has experience doling out these sorts of funds, having served as the special master of the funds for September 11, the Virginia Tech shootings and the BP oil spill. Last night, he repeatedly referenced how the money was divvied up after the shootings at Virginia Tech, in which a gunman killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. There are more total victims in the theater shooting, but fewer deaths: twelve killed and at least 58 injured.

In this case, as in the others before it, victims would fill out a claim form. Only injured victims or the family of those who died should submit one, he said in response to a question. He emphasized that the fund would cut one check per victim and that he would not act as a mediator of family feuds. "We can't get in a situation where family members are squabbling," he said. If that happens, the money will be placed in probate court.

Feinberg said he wants the process to happen quickly, and he laid out a timeline. He hopes to finalize the plan for how to distribute the money this weekend. Victims will have until November 1 to submit their claim forms. From November 1 to November 9, Feinberg will make himself available to meet with victims or family members one-on-one. "Confidential, no one's business," he said. He hopes to cut the checks by mid-November.

But he also emphasized that the plan isn't final -- not yet. The meetings are intended to gather feedback. "Am I missing something?" he asked last night. "Is there something else I should consider?" -- though no one publicly volunteered a suggestion. However, several victims talked with Feinberg one-on-one after the meeting.

Feinberg, who agreed to serve as special master for free at the request of Governor John Hickenlooper, also noted that there will be a "full and complete open audit" of the fund after the money is distributed. "I want the public to know, this is what we did with the $5 million," he said. "Everybody will know how every dime was spent."

The distribution of the fund has been a source of controversy. The families of eleven of the twelve victims who died have expressed frustration with the process and asked state officials to investigate the Community First Foundation, whose website, GivingFirst.org, solicited the donations. They claim the website used the names and photos of their loved ones without permission, which is against state law.

Feinberg last night acknowledged the difficulty of dividing the funds and said it's not enough to make up for "the horror" of what happened in the theater. Of the $5 million, he said in his thick New England accent, "That's a thimble for the horror of this case."

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "James Holmes case: Theater shooting survivors afraid for their safety, prosecutors say."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com

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