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Colorado shooting charity responds to criticism from victims' families

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 12:03 AM EDT, Fri August 31, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At least $5 million has been donated to the Aurora Victims Relief Fund
  • Relatives of victims say their demands on how to spend the money have been ignored
  • All money will go to meet the needs of the victims and families, foundation official says
  • Checks for $5,000 were sent to each of the 70 victims' families earlier this month

(CNN) -- The organization overseeing money raised to aid victims of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and their families responded Thursday to criticism from some victims' relatives that their calls to help decide how to spend it were being ignored.

"Every penny collected will go to meeting the direct needs and the future needs of the victims and their families," said Marla Williams, the chief executive of Community First Foundation, which oversees the relief fund.

At least $5 million has been donated to the Aurora Victims Relief Fund since it was established with the approval of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to help families of the 12 killed and 58 wounded. The governor chose the Community First Foundation to oversee the relief fund.

On Tuesday, Tom Teves, the father of shooting victim Alex Teves, said that "people who were in the theater, together with those who have lost loved ones" should be driving decisions about how the money raised is spent.

Aurora returns to the movies

At a news conference in Denver, Teves led a group he said represented 11 of the 12 people who died in the July 20 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," Teves said. "Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case."

But Williams said Thursday the foundation was trying to manage the fund "in a way that we can account for all the money."

She told CNN sister network HLN that it would take 30 to 45 days to determine how best to help the victims and their families. The organizations involved are committed not to take any fee from the funds, she said.

The foundation is working with a community committee, the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, also known as COVA.

COVA sent checks for $5,000 to each of the 70 victims' families on August 17, but Chantel Blunk, whose husband, Jonathan Blunk, was among the dead, said the money was not enough to help her deal with the trauma to her son and daughter, ages 2 and 4.

When she asked COVA to buy a plane ticket for her daughter Haley to travel from Reno, Nevada, to Denver, "They told me no," Blunk said. "They're like, 'There's no more funding and we can't help you.'"

In a statement on its website, COVA said "100% of donations made to COVA in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting are going directly to the victims. COVA has been able to assist victims and their families with costs such as airfare, rental cars and emergency fund situations because of the generosity of people from around the nation."

The families demand "a robust voice" on the committee that decides where the money goes, Teves said.

Cheryl Haggstrom, Community First Foundation executive vice president, said Tuesday that there had been a conversation about adding family representatives to the committee.

Hickenlooper's spokesman, Eric Brown, said Tuesday that his office was working to "improve communication and the ongoing distribution of assistance."

"Everyone involved is trying to do the right thing in a very difficult situation," Brown said. "We understand the frustration shared today by victims' families. That's why we have been advocating for them to have a greater voice in the process."

Family representatives will meet with the relief funds committee on Friday, Brown said.

CNN's Alan Duke contributed to this report.

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