By Keith Coffman
AURORA, Colorado (Reuters) - Families of people killed and wounded in a shooting rampage inside a Colorado movie theater in July said on Tuesday they were being denied a voice in how $5 million in donations raised to help them was being dispersed.
Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed, said the first disbursement of funds went to various charities instead of victims and that a committee charged with distributing the money does not have any victims or their families on it.
"We are certain that everyone who donated their hard-earned wages intended for 100 percent of their donations to go directly to the victims," Teves said. "Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case."
In an emotional news conference, 18 people representing families of the 12 who were killed and 58 who were wounded in the shooting accused some charities of soliciting funds by using victims' photographs without permission.
The Community First Foundation said $350,000 had been given directly to the victims or their families. The foundation, which manages the Aurora Victim Relief Fund, said it was dispersing money through smaller local charities that are responsible for distributing it to victims and their families.
Teves said $5,000 was given to each of the 70 victims' families only after they threatened to make public their concerns.
"The victims of 9/11 had similar issues with non-profit organizations keeping the donations from directly going to the victims until a handful of families put a stop to it," Teves said.
Community First's Executive Vice President Cheryl Haggstrom said, "We don't have direct communication with the families, but have been relying on professionals from police to the district attorney's office and victim advocates for them to tell us when it's the best time to include them."
She said the foundation was in the process of arranging a meeting with victims to get their input.
Former University of Colorado graduate student James Holmes, 24, is accused of opening fire inside the theater in Aurora on July 20 during a midnight screening of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises". He is being held in solitary confinement and without bond in the Arapahoe County jail.
U.S. Navy veteran Josh Nowlan, 32, who was severely wounded in the shooting, said he was slowly recovering but added that he knows families of those who died were suffering. "If I was a millionaire, I would give every dollar of it to them," he said.
(Editing by Mary Slosson)
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