Aurora theater shooting: Recovery committee responds to criticism from victim families

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Update: Rich Audsley, speaking for the 7/20 Recovery Committee, has released a statement responding to criticism from families of Aurora theater shooting victims. It's included after our original coverage.

Tom Teves, the father of Aurora theater shooting victim Alex Teves, lambasted the way Giving First, a program of the Community First Foundation that helped solicit more than $5 million for the attack's victims, has handled the disbursement of the funds.

He said victims' families have been misled, ignored and pitted against each other, and he called on politicians "to finally put an end to this madness, adding, "There have been two tragedies in Aurora. The first was the theater shooting.... The second is how victims have been treated."

The press conference was the second called by victims' families to express disappointment with how the donations are being spent; the first took place on August 28. While that event stretched on for hours and was attended by family members representing eleven of the twelve victims who died, today's was much shorter. Teves read an eight-minute prepared statement and then walked out of the room. The seven family members who stood behind him on a riser each took to the microphone and repeated the last sentence of Teves's statement -- "We will remember" -- and then followed him out to the parking lot.

According to Jessica Watts, the cousin of victim Jonathan Blunk, attendees included family members of victims Micayla Medek, Veronia Moser-Sullivan and A.J. Boik.

Teves said the families met on September 8 with the 7/20 Recovery Committee, a group of representatives from nonprofits, government and local schools charged with making recommendations for how to disburse the funds. At that meeting, he said, "we received some very surprising and disturbing information," including that the committee has no real authority over how the donations should be spent and that Giving First has "final say."

"That's not what we were told by the committee in our first meeting," Teves said. "We were told that the victims would have the final say in the disbursement of the funds."

Continue reading for more from Teves, as well as Audley's statement. Last week, the 7/20 Recovery Committee distributed surveys to victims' families asking for their input. A timeline posted on the AuroraGov.org website says the idea for the survey came out of a September 5 committee meeting, at which "it was clear...there was a diversity of opinion regarding the potential outcome of the fund and that the most vocal families and victims do not necessarily reflect the greatest number of victims."

The survey was sent to eighty victims, and according to the Denver Post, it proposes two options: to distribute the funds evenly among the victims (which includes the families of the twelve people killed, the 58 people wounded, those in the theater building that night and the residents of the apartment complex where Holmes lived, which he'd rigged with explosives) or divide them based on "individual needs assessments."

But Teves said, "No matter what time we take, as victims, filling out surveys or making decisions on the 7/20 Committee, what we collectively decide doesn't matter. Because Giving First can veto whatever they don't like." He said the questions "pit victims directly against victims, and it was clearly done in a way to achieve their desired results."

Teves also expressed frustration with the timeline; he said families are now being told that the method of distribution will be announced in November, as opposed to within thirty to 45 days as previously promised. And he said the victims recently learned that Giving First can keep the interest earned on the $5 million in donations.

His prepared statement, which was handed out to the press, included a paragraph asking Governor John Hickenlooper to separate himself from Giving First and "use his influence and power" to transfer control of the money to an independent arbitrator. Teves did not read that part out loud, though it's unclear why not.

Teves asked that politicians allocate "local, state and federal funds" to pay for all medical costs for victims who were physically and emotionally injured. "We also learned that the 7/20 Recovery Committee has no authority to get medical providers to release the victims from their bills," he said. "While this may be true, they made a commitment to leverage their extensive political and community resources to deliver this."

He also criticized Giving First for not doing more to help victims. Meanwhile, he said, the families of other victims have called Habitat for Humanity to ask about building a handicapped accessible house for Ashley Moser, who lost her six-year-old daughter, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, in the shooting, as well as her unborn baby. Family members say Moser's own injuries have left her paralyzed.

"Everyone in America who gave money to Giving First believing that their donations were going to directly help the victims can see that this is obviously not the case," he said. "The good people of Aurora, the good people of the state of Colorado and the good people of America will remember even if the politicians and the nonprofit leaders have already forgotten."

Westword has put in a call to Giving First and we'll update this blog post if and when we hear back.

Update, September 14: Below is the statement from Audsley.

We appreciate that this is a difficult situation and we know from other past tragic events that creating a distribution plan requires a thoughtful and inclusive process. It was determined early on that victims will play a significant role on the 7/20 Recovery Committee. We are waiting to hear from victims this week and next week about who wants to be involved, beyond those that have already spoken out.

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. In fact, we have been and continue to actively seek input from all of the victims injured and who lost family in this tragic event. We've had three meetings in nine days with the victims and their families. Additionally, we are meeting one-on-one with victims who have not yet had the chance to share their feelings. And, based on feedback from those affected, we've distributed a survey to the injured victims and families of the deceased. It is our responsibility to listen to all voices, and we are hearing a very wide variety of opinions on the work ahead.

The real work in developing the distribution plan will occur when the victims are seated at the table as part of the committee. The 7/20 Recovery Committee is committed to supporting Community First Foundation in its role as administrator of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. The Aurora Victim Relief Fund, however, is only one of many resources available to victims and their families -- the committee's recommendations are made in coordination with other community resources.

Every family of the deceased and injured has a Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) advocate assigned to them. COVA has established active ongoing contact with the majority of these victims and are assessing the short-term and intermediate needs. We ask that those who have yet to talk with their advocate contact COVA at 303-861-1160.

Rich Audsley

Special Advisor to the 7/20 Recovery Committee

Continue reading for documents showing how much money is currently in the Aurora Victim Relief Fund and a timeline of actions taken by the 7/20 Recovery Committee.

Aurora Victim Relief Fund
720 Recovery Committee Timeline

For more, read our Aurora Theater Shooting archive.

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

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