Aurora theater shooting: Victims' families say they have no voice about donations
Teves said the first disbursement of funds went to ten area nonprofit organizations, including the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance. According to him, COVA set up a committee that did not include any victim representation to decide who would receive these donations and what they could be used for.
Teves then described a lengthy and exhausting back-and-forth between victims' families and the organization, in which he said Giving First failed to respond to their concerns and launched a "damage-control campaign in the local media" when the disagreements started to become public. He says that $350,000 was disbursed to COVA, which then cut checks of $5,000 each for the seventy victims. A handful of the families in attendance say they have received these checks, while others, including Teves, say they have not.
Sam Levin Deidra Brooks
And there's still a lot more money in question.
"The disbursement came a month after the shootings but only days after our call," Teves said. "Victims, however, still have no voice in the disbursement process, and this only helps the seventy physically harmed. What about all the others?"
Family members at the emotional news conference -- who faced questions from dozens of reporters on a wide range of topics, not just the funding -- emphasized that they just want a transparent process that gives them a say in the disbursement. Teves called on Hickenlooper to step up and help improve communication and make sure the funds are going directly to those who need it.
We've reached out to the governor's office and Giving First and the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance for response.
Update, 3:54 p.m. August 28: Family members at the press conference frequently got emotional, telling the crowd of dozens of reporters in attendance that the lack of transparency in disbursing the donations has only added to their grief and pain as they continue to mourn their loved ones just a month after the shooting.
Melisa Cowden, the mother of the four children left behind by the death of Gordon Cowden, told the crowd through tears that she worries about her children's lives without a father.
Sam Levin Melisa Cowden, mother of four children who lost their father in the shooting.
"Since the day my kids lost their dad, I've been fighting against the idea that this is about the money. It's not about the money," she said. "I have four kids now that will go through the rest of their life without a dad. If there's a medical emergency in their lives, who do you usually turn to? You usually turn to your parents and say, 'I need help.' They don't have that anymore. They don't have somebody to love and comfort them, to walk them down the aisle, to be proud when they graduate from school. So it's not just about the money. It's about their futures...and it's not fair to me or anyone up here...that there's any feelings whatsoever that this is about the money. This is about taking care of our children and those that have been impacted by this horrible man's actions."
Family members throughout the news conference said that there has been a lack of leadership and a lack of communication regarding the donations.
"Governor Hickenlooper, you came and grieved with our families. We allowed you into our innermost circle at the worst time in our lives. We didn't do this lightly. You pledged twelve times, 'We will remember.' Are you a man who is true to his word or were they just words?" Teves said during his speech, adding that the families have seen limited victim assistance due to a "vacuum of communication and leadership."
He said the families want COVA, Giving First and the government to set aside politics. Part of the concern is that there is no victim representative on the board of the 7/20 Recovery Committee, a loosely organized group of community representatives and government entities, charged with distributing the remaining funds.
Continue reading for the governor's response and more photos.