Victim's relatives demand "a robust voice" on committee directing relief funds
Charity official says they've had a "conversation" about adding family reps to the committee
$5,000 went to 70 victims' families last week
At least $5 million has been donated to the Aurora Victims Relief Fund
Relatives of some those who died in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting last month accuse the charity raising money for their benefit of ignoring their demands to help decide how to spend it.
“We need people who were in the theater, together with those who have lost loved ones, driving these decisions,” said Tom Teves, father of shooting victim Alex Teves.
A spokesman for the Colorado governor promised the families’ concerns would be addressed soon.
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.
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Teves led a group he said represented 11 of the 12 people who died in the July 20 mass shooting in a news conference in Denver Tuesday afternoon.
“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 told reporters. “Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
The only disbursements have been to 10 local nonprofit groups, including the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, also known as COVA, he said.
“When you generate funds for a relief fund called the Aurora Victims Relief Fund, using pictures and names of our murdered loved ones without our permission, it would stand to reason that the fund is for the victims of the Aurora shooting,” he said.
COVA sent checks for $5,000 to each of the 70 victims’ families last week, but Chantel Blunk, whose husband Jonathan Blunk was among the dead, said the money is 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.”
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Haley has been suffering nightmares and the trip to where her father died might help her find “closure,” Blunk said. “Begging COVA, they just told me ‘No,’” she said. “She didn’t say sorry or anything.”
COVA did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
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 there has been “conversation” about adding family representatives to the committee.
Teves called on the governor to intervene, suggesting he has ignored their pleas for help.
“You came and grieved with our families,” Teves said. “We allowed you into our inner-most circle at the worst time in our lives, we didn’t do this lightly. You pledged 12 times ‘We will remember.’ Are you a man who is true to his words or are they just words?”
Hickenlooper’s spokesman, Eric Brown, told CNN Tuesday afternoon that his office is 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.
“Families have received money and other services through the great generosity of others, ” Brown said. “They will receive more.”
When Hickenlooper’s office announced the fund last month, he promised the money would “help those impacted by this tragedy begin to recover and rebuild their lives.”
Initial donors included Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, co-producers of “The Dark Knight Rises,” which was playing in the movie theater when the shooting began.
Sources at Warner Bros. studios, a subsidiary of CNN’s parent company Time Warner, told CNN that the company made a “substantial” donation.
Warner Bros., a subsidiary of CNN’s parent company Time Warner, would not divulge how much money it was giving out of what the sources said was respect for the victims.
The Community First Foundation website said that contributions would go toward meeting the needs of the shooting victims and their families, “and, as funds are available, the broad needs of those affected in the community.”