Shooting Victims Gain Veto Power In Donation Distribution

Victims Complained They Had No Voice In Release Of $5 Million Donated In Their Name

Families forever changed by the Aurora movie theater tragedy left a meeting Friday saying they felt better about plans to distribute public donations to the victims.

The families said they now have the ability to veto distribution decisions.

The meeting was held behind closed doors at the Aurora Civic Center, said city of Aurora spokeswoman Kim Stuart. The meeting was private to allow participants to speak freely, she added.

Two of Melisa Cowden’s children were at the theater with their father when he was shot and killed. She says she heard what she wanted to hear at the meeting.

“I asked them, 'Can you promise, 110 percent absolutely promise that every dollar that has been raised with the Aurora victims shooting (fund) will go directly to the Aurora victims,” said Cowden. “They all said, 'Yes, we can 110 percent guarantee that.'”

During an emotional news conference Monday, relatives of some of the people killed and injured during the July 20 shooting rampage demanded a voice in deciding who receives the donations raised in the victims' names.

Tom Teves, father of Alex Teves who was killed in the shooting, said the Community First Foundation charity that has received donations at its website, GivingFirst.org, is holding the funds and has repeatedly ignored requests from victims who want to have a say in how donations are spent.

"The victims have no voice at all," Teves said Monday.

Instead, he said, Community First has put more effort into "political spin" than helping victims.

Twelve people were killed in the shooting at the Aurora Century 16 theater and 58 others were injured.

Community First has "continued collecting donations using the pictures and names of our loved ones to motivate donations without our permission, promising this would go directly to the victims," Teves said.

Community First collected more than $5 million under the name of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. The fund was endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

"We're all heartsick that this process that was supposed to help repair some of the emotional damage has been so painful," Hickenlooper told the Denver Post Wednesday. "Until yesterday I had not heard that some people had received nothing."

Some victims have complained that they're having trouble paying medical bills, rent -- and even buying food.

The Friday meeting involved victims and officials from the city, the governor's office, Community First and the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance.

The victims and families wanted a say in how the donations are distributed and assurances that all of it would go to those who were involved in the tragedy.

The 7/20 Recovery Committee was formed to decide whose and what expenses the remaining $4.6 million would pay. The committee did not include any victim representation, despite requests from victims that they be allowed to influence decisions, Teves said Monday.

As a result of Friday’s meeting, victims will also have veto authority over the decisions about distribution of the funds. 7/20 Committee spokesperson Rich Audsley says they hope to have a completed distribution plan in the next 30 to 45 days.

“Whatever the distribution plan is that goes to the executive committee for approval, if it's not unanimous approval, it's going to go back to the resource committee for more work,” he said.

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