On Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper responded to criticisms that he -- and the Community First charity that he recommended, which manages the Aurora Victim Relief Fund in question -- received from Aurora shooting victims' families saying that his office is now going to take a more active roll in the process.
"We're all heartsick that this process that was supposed to help repair some of the emotional damage has been so painful," Hickenlooper said to The Denver Post. "Until yesterday I had not heard that some people had received nothing."
The Aurora Victim Relief Fund, through GivingFirst.org, has raised over $5 million, however on Tuesday the families of those who lost their lives in the Aurora theater shooting tragedy said that 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."
Teves also questioned Gov. Hickenlooper's commitment specifically 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?”
Hickenlooper responded saying that the government agencies and nonprofit organizations that are a part of the 7/20 committee have been working hard and meant well, but that "there's no handbook for this."
The governor went on to say to 9News that his office was trying to stay out of the way of the process, but acknowledged that perhaps "a more forceful approach" is needed to help manage the relief fund. "It's not a lack of willingness," Hickenlooper said to 9News about the desire that everyone involved has to help these families but also explained that "sometimes you try to get into something like this and you end up getting in the way."
On Tuesday, 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.
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.
Although Hickenlooper did not give specifics about how he thinks the money should be dispersed from the relief fund, he did say that his office will be more involved from now on and that there will be a meeting Friday to help restore victims' confidence in the process, but in the meantime, victims who have not been helped by the relief fund should contact Community First or call 211.