Aurora theater shooting families join call for national protocol to streamline donations

Family members of the victims in several mass murders, including Columbine and the Aurora theater shooting, are calling on the federal government to establish a protocol for a "national compassion fund" that would ensure that any money donated in the wake of a tragedy goes directly to the victims. "Our family took a lot of pain just trying to wrestle...for these donated funds," says Scott Larimer, whose son John was killed in Aurora. "I don't want any family to have to deal with this along with the tragedy of losing a loved one in a mass shooting."

In all, 64 people affected by tragedy, including eighteen family members of Aurora theater shooting victims and fifteen family members of students killed at Columbine High School, have signed on to the call for a "national compassion fund" protocol. The other signers include family members of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, September 11, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Sikh temple shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting.

The idea came about, Larimer says, when the families began talking to each other and realized they shared a common concern -- that the charities soliciting donations "latch on to this money and distribute it to everybody but the victims.

"If this protocol was in place, then the next time a tragedy occurs, the government knows what to do, the American public knows where to donate money to ensure it goes to the victims, and there will be accountability and fraud control," he says.

That's not what happened in the case of the Aurora shooting, Larimer says. More than $5 million in donations was collected through a fund set up by the non-profit Arvada-based Community First Foundation on its website, GivingFirst.org. But the money wasn't immediately given to victims. Instead, some of it was distributed to other non-profits.

In August, about a month after the July 20 shooting, the families of eleven of the twelve people killed held a press conference to express disappointment that victims and their families were not consulted on how to distribute the donations.

Continue reading for more on what the families are requesting. "We are certain that everyone who donated their hard-earned wages intended for 100 percent of their donations to go directly to the victims," said Tom Teves, who lost his son Alex, "and then each family affected would use those funds for what they most need to help their healing process. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case."

In September, Governor John Hickenlooper stepped in, appointing "special master" Ken Feinberg, a lawyer who served in a similar role after September 11 and the Virginia Tech shooting, to distribute the $5 million in the so-called Aurora Victim Relief Fund. After meeting with victims to hear their concerns, Feinberg set up a protocol that gave the most money to the families of those killed and victims who were permanently injured, and the rest to those who were hospitalized overnight with physical injuries.

Those calling for a "national compassion fund" protocol have released a template for how such a fund might work. In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, a state's governor, senator or congressman could activate a "national compassion fund." The fund would be granted non-profit status and the ability to "receive large donations...to help eligible victims directly via cash payments."

Victims would receive an initial disbursement of money within the first twenty days, and then additional disbursements every 45 days for the following three years, the template says. One suggested distribution protocol dictates that the families of deceased victims and those victims who were severely injured would get the most money, victims who were hospitalized or required surgery would get a smaller amount of money and victims who suffered emotional trauma would receive an even smaller amount.

The families have created an online petition at WhiteHouse.gov, asking the Obama administration to take action. "We call for the creation of a National Compassion Fund so after every future national tragedy a centralized, trusted fund is created (i.e.. Sandy Hook National Compassion Fund) so that public-intent is fulfilled and 100% of the money raised for victims actually get to them," it says. Their goal is to get 100,000 signatures.

"This is the way I'm trying to deal with my son's death," Larimer says. No other family should have to fight for access to donations the way he did, he adds: "If I can help smooth the way, this will help me put my son's death in a proper perspective."

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Aurora theater shooting victims set up fund to raise money for Sandy Hook victims."

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

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