PERRY: Shooting victims fund formula doesn’t add up to reality


So how much do you think you would deserve to get from your generous neighbors if you got shot in the face?

Tough question. If I were among those unlucky enough to be inside Century Aurora 16 Theater 9 when James Holmes appeared at the front of the cinema with guns in hand, I can imagine a million reasons why I would gratefully take money donated to me in sympathy.

Marlene Knobbe, grandmother of Aurora shooting victim Micayla Medek, tears up during a press conference, Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 28 at the Summit Event Center. Families of 11 of the 12 victims at the Century Aurora 16 massacre spoke to the press to voice their concerns with how donations to the victims were being handled. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

But if I were among those who weren’t critically maimed, I probably wouldn’t get anything from the thousands of generous people who opened up their hearts and wallets in the days after the massacre.

McKayla Hicks probably won’t. She was among dozens of people shot that night during the melee inside the theater. As the Batman movie ran, and Holmes started his slaughter, Hicks was shot in the face. She has scars, pain, lost teeth and life ahead trying to deal with what happened. She’s just a kid.

If your heart goes out to McKayla and all those like her who were hurt or horrified that night, some of your money might have, too.

There was so much generosity toward the Aurora Victims Relief Fund that it swelled to about $5 million.

Despite all the donations, appointed fund manager Kenneth Feinberg says the kitty isn’t a drop compared to the ocean of cash that’s really needed.

Needed? Feinberg set up a formula where the families of the 12 dead and a handful of heinously wounded victims will each get about $200,000. The other 40 or so shooting victims get some cash based on how many days they stayed in a hospital.

Now on the surface, it sort of makes sense. It measures money against the severity of injury.

Feinberg believes that the more you were physically hurt, or if you’re dead, you would “need” and deserve more money. This is where his plan and this whole thing begins to unravel.

There is no formula for how to get past being trapped in a dark theater while a deranged gunman wanders around looking for a target. Feinberg’s plan may make sense to an insurance adjuster or an arbitration judge, but it doesn’t make sense in the real world.

I know that when I gave money to the fund, I never thought about what victims would do with it. I would hope that it wouldn’t go to an insurance company, or a for-profit hospital, or for anything that these victims need. I would hope that my cash gets spent on something that one of the victims wants.

I would want my money to buy Hicks, or the football player from Gateway, or the kid from Connecticut who got shot in the neck, or the parents of that cool kid from Red Robin Restaurant that died, a little respite from their grief. It would be for each person to decide whether respite is a new bike, a paid phone bill, dental implants or a room-full of crayons.

I never once thought while giving money to the fund, “Oh, man. That guy lost his dad in the shooting, I hope he gets more than the girl shot in the arm.”

Feinberg and the state have taken uniquely human traits, generosity and compassion, and disinfected this fund of that humanity. This decision has all the warmth and practicality of an IRS fine schedule.

Feinberg and officials are wrong to presume they can quantify any of this. Split the money equally among everyone in the theater, unless that money was earmarked for a particular victim. Allow victims to take all or some of their “share,” making it so victims can donate to each other.

That won’t happen now. The checks will be cut. People will move on. But here’s my advice for the next community that gets to host a massacre: Don’t manage group funds. Let banks manage funds for named victims. Split pooled funds equally or disperse them to an agency that everyone can benefit from.

And give. What these survivors need more than anything is hope, each one in different ways and amounts. Money doesn’t buy hope, but money, compassion and kindness can help foster it.


Reach editor Dave Perry at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]


  1. One problem with your article: James Holmes is still a suspect. He has not been on trial yet – innocent until proven guilty, remember? Therefore, it would not hurt to use words like “allegedly” or “suspect.” Thank you.

Comments are closed.