by Elise Schmelzer | Original story appeared in denverpost.com
Donations began to flow within hours after a gunman killed 10 people at a Boulder King Soopers grocery store one year ago.
“I live only a mile away from the shooting, I’m so sorry to all the families affected and to the Boulder community,” one donor wrote in a comment with his $10 gift to a GoFundMe campaign raising money for families of the victims. “It’s not much, but I hope it helps.”
“I’m so, so sorry for your unimaginable pain,” another wrote.
“They matter,” wrote another donor.
Eventually, the $406,895 collected by that GoFundMe campaign was transferred to the Colorado Healing Fund, a nonprofit organization created in 2018 for the exact purpose of collecting and distributing money in the wake of mass-casualty violence. The organization and the Community Foundation Boulder County were listed by officials as trusted ways to donate in the aftermath of the shooting without fear of fraud.
Over the next months, the Colorado Healing Fund collected more than $4.7 million and the Community Foundation collected more than $1.7 million in donations in response to the shooting, the largest amounts collected by single entities. For the last year, the two nonprofits have been divvying up the money between other nonprofits to support the needs of victims and survivors as well as efforts for broader community healing.
Nearly a year after the shooting, the Colorado Healing Fund has distributed all but $570,000 to other nonprofits, including more than $3 million for victims and victims’ families. The Community Foundation has distributed all of its money to other nonprofits, including $957,000 intended for victims.
But the process has not been without controversy and it reopened an ongoing debate in the U.S. about how to divvy up money after a mass shooting.
Four victims’ families in June called for authorities to appoint someone to divide and distribute the money immediately among those who lost loved ones. They wanted more say on how the money was being distributed and did not believe the money should be given to anyone but the victims and their families. They were frustrated with how long it was taking for money to be dispersed and did not trust the two major nonprofits.
“Public intent was, and is, to provide their monetary gifts directly to the victims’ families,” John Mackenzie said in a statement published in May by Victims First. Mackenzie’s wife, Lynn Murray, was killed in the shooting.
Executive directors from both the Colorado Healing Fund and the Community Foundation said they wanted to help the victims’ families and those inside the store who survived, but also take into account the community as a whole.
“Very early we were clear with donors and our community that we were taking a broad approach in terms of healing,” said Tatiana Hernandez, CEO of the Community Foundation.
How the money was used
In the last year, the Colorado Healing Fund gave $3.04 million of the $4.78 million it collected to the nonprofit Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance for distribution to the 10 victims’ families and the 27 people named as victims in the criminal case against the gunman.
The fund started work March 22, the same day as the shooting, and spent $415,000 in the first two days, including helping victims’ families pay for travel and hotels, executive director Jordan Finegan said.
The Healing Fund also gave $959,000 to the BoulderStrong Resource Center run by Mental Health Partners, a nonprofit providing mental health services in Boulder and Broomfield counties. The center offers counseling and other mental health services to those impacted by the shooting.
The Healing Fund kept $221,000 as an administrative fee, which Finegan said the organization has been clear about since the beginning, and has $570,000 left for future needs.
“We’re not looking to hold onto money forever, that’s not our goal,” Finegan said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This is a lifelong thing that people are going to experience/”
The Community Foundation collected $1.74 million in the wake of the shooting and also gave most of that money — $957,000 — to the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance for disbursement to victims. Another $261,000 went to the BoulderStrong Resource Center.
“As a community foundation, we understand in moments of crisis community members need a place to feel like they’re a part of the healing of the community,” Hernandez said. “We become that container.”
The remaining $529,000 was given to six grantees for community projects dedicated to healing. The Museum of Boulder was awarded $160,000 to continue its work archiving the material from the spontaneous memorial that accrued on the fence around King Soopers. Another $200,000 went to the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, which is acting as a fiduciary sponsor for small “neighborhood healing events” in south Boulder.
“Our committee felt it was important for members of the south Boulder community to reconnect in the aftermath of this event and weave back what was broken,” Hernandez said.
It’s unclear how much of the money given to Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance has been distributed to victims, however.
Nancy Lewis, the nonprofit’s executive director, would not say how much money had been distributed to each victim or victims’ family, citing a desire to protect their privacy. She also would not say how much money in total had been distributed to victims and how much remained. COVA does not collect an administrative fee for its work, she said.
Two distribution methods
Two basic methods for distributing money to victims after mass shootings have emerged in the United States in the last decades. In one, the money is quickly divided between victims and distributed in lump sums based on the severity of their injuries. In the other method, the money is given out over time based on victims’ needs.
Colorado has used both methods in response to mass shootings.
After the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed a special master to allocate the $5 million collected in the aftermath after victims’ families criticized how the Community First Foundation was handling the money.
The special master, Ken Feinberg, gave $220,000 to families of the dead and victims who were paralyzed or suffered permanent brain damage. Those hospitalized for at least 20 days received $160,000, those hospitalized between eight and 19 days received $91,680, and those hospitalized for one to seven days received $35,000.
That’s not the model that the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance is using, Lewis said. Some money has been given out as lump sums based on the direction of the donor, she said, but COVA is also distributing money on a needs basis.
Lewis said COVA does not use the Feinberg model because victims’ needs differ and can last for years. The nonprofit wants to reserve money should needs arise later.
“My belief is that you can’t make decisions out of an insurance policy theory because people are affected differently,” she said.
But that method is bureaucratic and slow, said Zachary Blair, vice-president of Victims First. The nonprofit worked with families of victims from the Boulder shooting to advocate for a single victims fund that distributed cash payments among the victims, similar to how Feinberg administered the Aurora money.
“It’s simple,” he said. “There should be a single fund for victims; 100% of what goes in should go out.”
Donations given in the wake of a mass shooting should be assumed to be intended for the victims of the crime, he said. Victims should have the freedom to spend that money as they choose and not be forced to prove their needs.
“Yes, there needs to be long-term services, but nonprofits can hold their own fundraisers and get grants for those,” Blair said.
Money often becomes the focus of contention after a mass-casualty event, Lewis said. Money can lighten the load for victims and their families by making up for lost income or paying rent.
“But there is no amount of money in the world that will fill the hole in their heart,” Lewis said.
Addressing long-term needs
After the $4 million pledged to victims, the $1.2 million pledged to the BoulderStrong Resource Center is the second-largest distribution of money from the Colorado Healing Fund and the Community Foundation Boulder County.
That money will help the resource center run for at least three years, said Kate Parker, vice president of clinical care and COO for Mental Health Partners, which runs the center.
The center is tucked into an office building off of Baseline Road, about a five-minute drive from the Table Mesa King Soopers. Donated art from Boulder residents hangs on the walls and doors open into counseling offices, an arts room and a meditation room. A conference room is also organized so that people can watch court proceedings against the man charged in the shooting. On Wednesday, an emotional support dog named Chewbacca greeted visitors.
The six full-time staffers in addition to part-time contractors offer counseling, acupuncture, art therapy, meditation and therapy groups, and yoga. The center has recorded more than 2,500 visits by more than 730 people since April 15, when it started tracking usage, Parker said.
Usage of the center comes in waves, Parker said. They’ve seen upticks in visits around the holidays, the reopening of the King Soopers store and as the one-year remembrance has approached. People who have never been continue to come to the center for the first time.
Many of those coming to the center for the first time months after the shooting are people with little past mental health history, Parker said. They might have thought that they would be fine, but are still dealing with symptoms.
Mental Health Partners is already searching for grants or more funding to continue the center past three years, Parker said. People will continue to need the support it offers, she said, especially as the suspected gunman’s court case continues.
“People forget,” she said. “The next tragedy comes up. But these things won’t just go away in three years for our community.”