Relatives of some of the people killed in the Aurora theater shootings are demanding that they be allowed to have a voice in deciding who receives more than $5 million in donations raised in the victims' names.
In an emotional news conference Tuesday morning, Tom Teves, father of Alex Teves who was killed in the shooting, said Giving First 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.
Instead, he said, Giving First has put more effort into "political spin" than helping victims.
Giving First collected more than $5 million under the name of the Aurora Victim Relief Fund. The fund was endorsed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Twelve people were killed in the shooting at the Aurora Century 16 theater and 58 others were injured.
Giving 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.
Teves was surrounded by 18 family members of other victims who crammed into a tiny stage at the Aurora Summit Conference and Events Center.
Teves said nine disbursements totaling $100,000 went to grants to nonprofits in Aurora.
The Colorado Organization for Victims Assistance or COVA received $350,000 from Giving First, who wrote checks of $5,000 to each of the 70 victims.
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.
7/20 Committee spokesperson Rich Audsley says the committee has always planned to consider input from the families, but will not be run by them.
"This committee will not be having the victims decide how the dollars are allocated. It will be done by the committee with input by victims," Audsley said. "We can only do this once, and we want to make sure we make the right decisions."
He said the money that already went to nonprofits was specifically designated for that purpose by the donors.
But Teves said Giving First has gone back and forth with families representatives promising better communication and input, then reneging.
At one point during negotiations, Teves says Giving First suggested that the victims create their own separate fundraising campaign.
"Our families agreed the only way to gain a voice was to go to the public and shine a light on what was happening," Teves said.
President and CEO of the Community First Foundation Marla Williams told 7NEWS the committee is still working out how to deal with fund disbursement.
"What I want to be able to say to those donors is that we looked at this. We were smart about it. We took time to do it right," Williams said. "There will be a process to be accountable to the community about what the process is and what the decisions made are."
Teves said he still wants an "open and honest dialogue" with COVA and Giving First that allows victims to have a say in how donations are spent.
"All we are saying is 'listen to us.' We have unique knowledge and unique skill sets that we can bring to bear to make this better for all the victims. Why are we shunned to the outside," Teves said.
Chantel Blunk, whose husband was killed in the shooting, said she lives in Reno and received a check to help pay for airfare. She said COVA refused to pay for plane tickets for her young children to travel with her.
Blunk said she wants to bring her children to Colorado to show them places she lived with Jonathon Blunk.
"Anything I can do to give them as much closure as I can," she said.
"You don't understand how difficult it is for someone to ask you, as though you are going to apply for welfare. 'What do you need that money for?' " said Deidra Brooks, whose stepson was hurt in the shooting.
"Our lives were never intended to change after July 20th," she said.
Hickenlooper released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying "Everyone involved is trying to do the right thing in a very difficult situation."
"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," Hickenlooper said. "We will continue to listen and do all we can to help ensure families get the support they need."
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