by Josh Grossberg | Tue., Aug. 28, 2012 2:25 PM
Survivors and the families of the Aurora shooting victims are speaking out about what they perceive is a financial aid process that has actually done more harm than good.
In an emotional press conference this afternoon, the group criticized the 7/20 Recovery Committee, an organization made up of volunteers from government and community organizations, for failing to ensure that the $5 million in donations collected for the Aurora Victim Relief Fund was disbursed to those who needed it most.
"We are here because we want the public to know what's been going on behind the scenes," said Tom Teves, who lost his son Alex in the shooting and is acting as a spokesman on behalf of the families.
According to the relatives, only $450,000 out of the estimated $5 million has so far been distributed. Out of that amount, $350,000 was funneled to the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), a nonprofit that sent $5,000 checks to approximately 70 victims, but failed to contact many more, Teves among them.
"I am certain that the public intended 100 percent of those donations to go to the families of victims, and to use that money to help the healing process. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case," added Teves.
The 18 family members who gathered before the press also decried the lack of leadership in how the remaining $4.6 million was being distributed. They demanded the committee make good on its pledge to assist those directly affected by the July 20 tragedy, which occurred when 24-year-old James Holmes burst into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and shot and killed 12 people and injured 58.
"What we are demanding is a robust voice in how this is implemented. The victims have no voice in this at all," Teves noted, adding that the families are seeking more transparency in the way the funds are doled out.
Deidra Brooks, whose 19-year-old son Jarell sustained serious injuries in the massacre, didn't mince words when it came to expressing how the mishandling of relief funds has impacted her and other victims and their relatives.
"It's more than a slap in the face. It's going through the 20thover and over and over," she said.
Cheryl Haggstrom, executive vice president of the Community First Foundation, which has been tasked by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to run the relief fund, tells E! News the committee is sorry to hear about the frustrations of many of these family members.
"We know they're going through a difficult time as it is, and it's unfortunate that this is added on to that," Hagestrom said.
The spokeswoman noted the group is working hard to address the families' complaints. To that end, CFF is looking to choose a victims' representative. Additionally, it's doing its best to think about both the short-term and long-term needs of the victims, though its main responsibility is to distribute funds to nonprofit organizations like COVA.
"The committee that we're working with is designed to look at all the victims that have been impacted by this, and as you can imagine there are many, and we're trying to look at the best use of dollars to meet immediate needs but we also want to be thoughtful about what the intermediate long-term need will be," Haggstrom said. "There are some individuals whose injuries will impact them for a long time."
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