Aurora theater shooting victims set up fund to raise money for Sandy Hook victims

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Five months after suffering their own losses, family members associated with deceased victims in the Aurora theater shooting have set up a fund to help Newtown school shooting victims, including Emilie Parker, age six, pictured here. Calling themselves VictimsFirst, the group said the money will go directly to victims' families. "We don't want a repeat of what happened to us in Aurora to happen to them," they noted in an e-mail.

After twelve people were killed and more than 58 wounded when a gunman opened fire at a July 20 midnight showing of the latest Batman movie, more than $5 million in donations poured in for the victims. The money was collected through a website called GivingFirst.org, which is run by the nonprofit Community First Foundation.

But several victims' families were initially unhappy with the way the money was disbursed. Their biggest complaint was that the funds were being distributed without any input from the victims themselves. "Nobody is trying to get rich," Eirz Scott, the mother of Jarell Brooks, a nineteen-year-old who was shot in the leg, told reporters in August. "We just want to be able to take care of our families."

Ultimately, Governor John Hickenlooper sought outside help. Ken Feinberg -- an attorney who helped distribute money raised for the victims of September 11, the Virginia Tech shootings and other such tragedies -- came to Aurora to meet with victims and develop a protocol for dividing the funds. In the end, 38 victims split $5.3 million.

On Friday, as news spread that twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the Aurora group set up a fund to help. Scott Larimer, the father of John Larimer, a 27-year-old Navy officer killed in the theater shooting, says the group has been working for a while on a better way to donate.

"There is no clear-cut, organized way to provide relief to a disaster area like Sandy Hook," Larimer says. A Google search of places to donate turns up dozens of funds -- not all of which may be above-board, Larimer says. "We don't know ... if everybody is honest and willing to donate that money back to the victims," he adds. "Are they going to pocket the money or divert it to other organizations?"

Even if those organizations are well-established, Larimer says, many people who donate think that their money is being sent directly to victims' families -- which isn't always what happens. In the case of the Aurora shootings, donated money was also given to several area non-profits, which frustrated some family members.

That frustration led ten families to form VictimsFirst. Launched earlier than planned in order to respond to the tragedy in Connecticut, Larimer says the goal is to give those who want to donate "an absolute comfortable way to know that if they donate money to our organization, it will get to the person who had the tragedy and nobody else." Larimer says he doesn't know the technical details of how that will happen. But he does know, from unfortunate personal experience, that individual families know best what they need.

As of this writing, the fund set up by VictimsFirst has raised just under $600 -- far short of the $300,000 goal. But Larimer and others are working to spread the word.

Other funds to raise money for the Sandy Hook victims include one set up by the local United Way and another by a long-time resident of Newtown. Separate funds have been established for individual victims, including Emilie Parker and six-year-old Noah Pozner. And a fund set up by a former Sandy Hook Elementary student has raised nearly $80,000. Its webpage says the proceeds will be given to the school's PTSA.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Gun control: John Hickenlooper calls for debate following Newtown school shooting."

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

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