AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper should take a $5.2 million victims' fund away from a private group so that assistance can more quickly be distributed, family members of many of those killed or wounded in the Aurora mass shooting said Thursday.
Several relatives of victims expressed frustration with Community First Foundation at a news conference. They urged the governor to appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee the donations.
"Victims are paralyzed, facing multiple and painful surgeries, unable to walk, to work and pay their rent, food and medical bills," said Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was one of the 12 people killed. "Some have no medical insurance at all."
Hickenlooper's spokesman, Eric Brown, said in a statement they are working on bringing the Mile High United Way and the city of Aurora to the table to help.
"Our sole objective is to help the victims and their families," Brown said. "We have heard their concerns."
Thursday's news conference was the second time victims have criticized the charity that has overseen public donations for the July 20 theater shooting victims and their families.
In August, Teves and others demanded a say in how the money raised by the charity is spent.
"There have been two tragedies in Aurora," Teves said. "The first was the theater shooting, where I lost my son. The second is how the victims have been treated by the powers that be."
The foundation says it has collected $5.2 million and has so far given $5,000 each to the families of the 12 people killed and 58 wounded — a total of $350,000 — to meet their immediate financial needs.
It's also given $100,000 to 10 nonprofit groups, including several mental health organizations, highlighted on its website soon after the shooting.
To do the greatest good, the money needs to be distributed through an agency experienced at evaluating victims' needs, said David Borochoff, president of Chicago-based CharityWatch, a watchdog group.
That process may seem demeaning to victims — but it sometimes is necessary to avoid misspending funds, Borochoff said.
Teves, of Phoenix, said he was speaking for 10 families of those slain as well as at least 12 of the 58 people wounded in the shooting. He said victims also want public funds to pay for medical bills, including mental health treatment.
Among other grievances, Teves said family members were told last week that Giving First, a charity that works with Community First, would have final say over the donations it received. Relatives initially were told victims would have the final say, Teves said.
Teves also complained that victims initially were told the funds would be disbursed within weeks but were told last week they won't learn how the money will be handled until November.
Rich Audsley, an adviser to Community First's 7/20 Recovery Committee that will recommend how the money will be distributed, said decisions about how that will happen have not yet been made. Audsley said the executive committee that will make recommendations currently has nine members but could grow to as many as 15 to include victim family members.
"Those families paid the ultimate price and we understand that but we also, because of our responsibility as a committee that's putting together the recommendations, we don't want to overlook the lifelong needs of those individuals that will never be the same again physically," he said.
The committee hasn't decided whether the money raised will be used to cover mental health fees, he said, adding that a federal grant could cover those expenses.
Also, interest made on the money raised will be distributed to victims, Audsley said. Anita Busch, of Los Angeles, whose cousin, Micayla Medek, 23, died in the theater, said families during a meeting were told it was up to Giving First's discretion on whether or not to keep the interest earned on the donations.
Earlier Thursday, Teves said he was told that Giving First could keep interest earned on the donations.
Audsley, a former Mile High United Way executive, was the lead staff member for the Columbine Healing Fund.
Meanwhile, families have been working behind the scenes to help one another, Teves said. He said they reached out to Habitat for Humanity to build a handicapped-accessible house for Ashley Moser. Her family has said Moser would be paralyzed as a result of her wounds.
Moser lost a 6-year-old daughter in the shooting and also miscarried.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.