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9/11, Va. Tech. mediator helps on Aurora shooting

Fri., Sept. 21, 2012, 7:54 a.m.

DENVER (AP) — Facing criticism from families of victims of the Aurora movie theater shooting, officials handling the distributions of donations are consulting with a mediator who oversaw compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the Virginia Tech shooting.

An email sent by the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance to victims’ families said Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office, the 7/20 Committee and the Community First Foundation have initiated discussions with Kenneth Feinberg and plan to meet with him Friday in Denver.

Feinberg’s office referred all questions to Hickenlooper’s office, which didn’t provide any details about what would be discussed at the meeting. A spokeswoman for the Community First Foundation didn’t immediately respond to a phone message Friday morning.

It was also revealed Friday that Cinemark said in a letter it plans to reopen the theater where James Holmes is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 others. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan asked the company to refurbish and reopen the theater based on request from victims and victim’s advocates.

Holmes has been charged with 152 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes in the July 20 shooting. He has not entered a plea.

Last week, the families of 10 people killed and at least a dozen of those wounded called on Hickenlooper and lawmakers to appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee distribution of the donations.

The families say they’ve been frustrated by an initial plan that would have excluded them from the process of disbursing the funds, the time the process has taken and the possibility of spending donations on mental health treatment.

Of the $5.2 million collected, $350,000 has been given to families for immediate financial needs and $100,000 has been split between 10 nonprofit groups.

ABC News first reported Feinberg’s involvement.

Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed while protecting his girlfriend at the theater, remained skeptical of those in charge of the fund but said Feinberg’s involvement is probably a good thing if he “maintains his moral compass.”

He said the pain of families who have lost loved ones has been lost in the dispute.

“If all of this gets settled the right way, that pain won’t go away,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who has called for a change in the donation assistance process for the shooting victims, said in a statement he was pleased by the development.

He said Feinberg “brings instant credibility to the process in hopes of reassuring victims, their families, and all who have contributed to the recovery fund that this will be done right.”

Feinberg also was recently hired by Penn State in its effort to settle personal injury claims of victims molested by assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and he oversaw relief funds following the BP oil spill.

In a book he wrote about his victim compensation work — “Who Gets What: Fair Compensation after Tragedy and Financial Upheaval” — he wrote that more than $7 billion in taxpayer money was used to pay survivors of the 2001 terror attacks, with an average award for death of about $2 million, for injury about $400,000. Ninety-eight percent of claimants participated, and just 94 families opted out so they could sue.

At Virginia Tech, $6.5 million was distributed among 32 families, including five faculty members, using a methodology that took into account the length of hospital stays for those who survived.


Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.

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