Though the Aurora Victim Relief Fund has raised over $5 million, the families of those who lost their lives in the Aurora theater shooting tragedy say they've only received $5,000 each and that they've had no say in how the rest of the money is distributed.
"We're certain that everyone who donated their hard-earned wages intended for 100 percent 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," said Tom Teves, who lost his 24-year-old son Alex Teves in the July 20th Aurora theater shootings.
"Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case."
During the press conference, organized by 11 families of Aurora shooting victims -- some of whom flew out to Colorado in order to be present -- the families said that the first disbursement of funds, amounting to $100,000 went instead to 10 area nonprofits. A 7/20 board, called the Recovery Committee, was set up to distribute the donations though the board does not include any family members of the shooting victims.
Instead, the board is made up of city officials, the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), Aurora Public Schools, a representative from the Community First Foundation and Karla Maraccini, a representative from Governor John Hickenlooper's office.
"In the meantime, the Giving First website 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. However at the same time Giving First announced that no checks would be cut directly to the victims," said Teves.
The families say they wanted to hold a press conference after experiencing a lack of transparency about the funds and a lack of communication from COVA and the Giving First Foundation.
To date, the Giving First Foundation says it has given $350,000 to 70 victims who were hurt or lost in the shooting. That amounts to $5,000 each.
Marla Williams, the president and CEO of the Giving First Foundation talked with The Huffington Post and said that the $5,000 was intended to be just the first round of funds to help address the most pressing needs of the victims' families.
"We know there will be intermediate and longer needs for people as well," Williams said.
Williams said that Tom Teves reached out to her about having victims on the 7/20 committee and said that she took his request to committee members, but added that there are close to 2,000 family members of victims who were in the theater.
"The committe is looking at ways this has been done in other tragedies, like Columbine, Virginia Tech and others. There are people on this 7/20 committee that have been involved in those recovery efforts as well. They're working on what's the best way to (involve victims' families more), understanding the number of victims are so large," said Williams.
Williams also added that COVA asked to take part in the gag order so they could have access to sealed information in the Aurora tragedy, and that they may not be able to divulge much in an interview. A call to COVA's Executive Director Nancy Lewis was not immediately returned.
The mother of 19-year-old shooting victim Jarell Brooks, who helped get a mother and her young children out of the theater at the cost of suffering bullet wounds, said the experience has been something nobody could prepare for.
"It's like going over the 20th over and over and over again," Brooks said, noting that her son has suffered some PTSD-like symptoms since the shooting.
Teves also questioned Gov. Hickenlooper's commitment to the victims' families, reminding members of the media that Hickenlooper had attended many funerals for the victims.
“You pledged 12 times, ‘We will remember.’ Are you a man of your words? Or were they just words?”
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