Peter Foley / EPA
The US flag flew at half-mast June 14, the six-month anniversary Sandy Hook massacre. Money from a victims' fund has still not been disbursed.
Families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre will receive $281,000 apiece from collected donations in a plan introduced after a drawn-out process that caused hard feelings for many.
Community members vented Thursday night at a short-but-tense town hall meeting in Newtown, Conn., called to discuss how the funds would be doled out.
Rob Accramondo, the founder of the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, said those gathered for the meeting wished the fund had been dealt with “in a much more transparent way.”
He added, “The ability to ask questions to the decision-makers would have been nice.”
Brian Snyder / Reuters file
Ken Feinberg, seen here at a town hall meeting about the Boston Marathon victims fund he ran, is a consultant for the Newtown, Conn., committee divvying up money for Sandy Hook massacre families.
And David Lewis, whose grandson Jesse was killed in the attack, stressed that the money needed to go to where the donors thought it would, "because if it doesn't go to right place this time, people may not give next time," he said.
"This process is re-victimizing the victims," said Caryn Kaufmann, a victims advocate, to applause from other community members at the meeting at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown.
It’s been nearly seven months since 20-year-old Adam Lanza stalked through the school, killing 20 first-graders and six staff members in a shooting spree that shocked the nation.
Although millions in donations poured into the fund, none of the $7.7 million dedicated to go to families of the victims has been disbursed due to a battle with the Sandy Hook Community Foundation over the amount the families will get, how much goes to the community, and the process being used.
At Thursday night’s public meeting, which lasted only about 30 minutes, a committee distributed a plan it developed with the advice of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw victims funds from 9/11, the Virginia Tech massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing.
But those in attendance wanted to know why there was not a more transparent system in place earlier to help determine how the money would be divvied up. They also wanted to know what happens to the funding raised in the future, and why this was their first shot at getting a public say.
The plan calls for 95 percent of the $7.7 million to go to the families of deceased victims, with the remaining 5 percent reserved for two people who were injured during the shooting and the families whose children witnessed the attack.
Jessica Hill / AP
Residents of Newtown wait to speak at a public forum on the distribution of Newtown donations at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Conn., Thursday, July 11, 2013.
The 26 families of the deceased will each receive $281,000 under the plan. The two injured may receive a total of $150,000, while those whose children witnessed the shooting may receive $20,000 each.
The proposal states that 12 families are eligible to claim their children witnessed the shooting.
A final protocol will be adopted July 15, with Aug. 2 being the deadline for claims submissions.
The proposal calls for final payments to be made around Aug. 16.
Thursday’s town hall was “an opportunity for whoever wants to speak out,” said the committee chairman, retired federal Judge Alan Nevas. “There may be curiosity in terms of the process. Some people may want specifics in terms of numbers. And there has been controversy in terms of the 70-30 allocation.”
The fund, which was initially run by United Way of Western Connecticut, collected $11.4 million and has decided that 70 percent will go to the victims while 30 percent will be set aside for undefined community needs.
But when a woman asked about the split during the town hall, Nevas said the town hall was only meant to address the $7.7 million amount.
Family members have complained the decision-making process was not transparent and pleaded for an independent figure to oversee the fund. At a meeting in June, two mothers ran from the room crying, according to the Hartford Courant.
Feinberg – who managed to start funneling $60 million in funds to Boston Marathon victims in just 60 days after the bombing – is serving only as a consultant to the Newtown committee.
“I have no binding authority,” he said.
Having handled so many cases, he noted that there is always frustration involved on the part of the victims.
"Is the money adequate? No, it's not adequate. It's never adequate," he told NBC Connecticut.
The three-person committee was to meet privately after the hearing and again on Friday, and Nevas said he expects a final decision early next week. Feinberg said he hopes families will start receiving funds by Aug. 15.
Nevas said he did not want to comment on why the process has been so protracted.
“I know why it’s taken so long,” he said. “I don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”
First published July 11 2013, 8:08 PM