With nine bereaved families and an anxious community watching, a committee of Dayton Foundation volunteers is deciding how best to share $3 million of donations that poured into Dayton from across the world after the Oregon District mass shooting seven weeks ago.
One of the foremost experts in distributing charity in the wake of mass casualties has a piece of advice for those volunteers: Make peace with the fact that some people will be displeased.
“You better brace yourself — because you’re going to have criticism no matter what you decide,” said Ken Feinberg, a Washington, D.C. attorney.
Feinberg and Camille Biros have advised foundation volunteers and leaders in other communities about how best to distribute charitable donations freely given in the wake of mass shootings and disasters.
Feinberg’s brutal warning for Dayton volunteers trying to disburse what has been called the “Oregon District Tragedy Fund:” Expect no thanks.
“In our experience, no one is happy with these protocols, about the distribution of money,” Feinberg said.
“How many times have I heard someone say, ‘Ms. Biros, keep the money. Bring my daughter back,’” Feinberg added.
‘We’ll show you the path’
On the early morning of Aug. 4, Dayton Foundation President Mike Parks and his staff huddled, trying to figure out how the foundation could help.
“We knew we needed to help,” Parks said. “We knew we wanted to help.”
Dayton leaders had called that morning and asked the foundation to set up a fund that would take donations. The foundation’s answer was yes, but Parks said: “We’ve got to figure it out.”
“Within an hour, we were getting help from other communities from around the country that have gone through this,” he said. “You felt you weren’t alone.”
Those communities were pointing Dayton toward Feinberg and his firm, who had assisted after more than 30 mass shootings.
“They do all their work as volunteers,” Parks said of Feinberg’s firm. “They don’t charge a penny. They’re totally 100 percent accessible to us. When you need them, they’re there.”
In those early conversations, foundation staff were told to regard the money as charitable gifts, as “an outpouring of love and support.”
“And unfortunately, it’s an imperfect system,” Parks said. “There’s no right and wrong answer in how you do this.”
The foundation’s draft protocol is simple. With an estimated fund balance standing at about $3 million, some 75 percent of that amount would go to families or estate representatives of deceased individuals.
That’s about $2.25 million total for the nine people killed in the shooting spree on East Fifth Street — or about $250,000 per family or estate.
The Oregon District shooting victims were: Derrick Fudge, 57; Lois Oglesby, 27; Saeed Saleh, 38; Logan Turner, 30; Nicholas Cumer, 25; Thomas McNichols, 25; Beatrice Warren-Curtis, 36; Monica Brickhouse, 39; and Megan Betts, 22. Dayton police killed the shooter, Betts’ brother, in the event.
Smaller percentages will be set aside for those who were injured, according to the draft. Twenty percent of the fund — about $600,000 — will go to those who had been hospitalized for 48 hours or more after the shooting. Another 5 percent (about $150,000) would go to those who had been treated by a doctor or a hospital within 48 hours of the mass shooting.
It’s unclear what the final fund total will be or many applications from injured people the foundation will receive. Oct. 31 is the final day to donate, and that day is also the deadline for applications seeking funds.
In town hall meetings last week at Sinclair Community College, some argued that the money should be divided equally.
After the shooting began early on Aug. 4, Dutch Woods II found himself crawling on East Fifth Street. He said a bullet grazed his leg and lodged in his elbow; he ended up driving himself to a hospital not knowing the bullet was still within him.
Woods pronounced the draft protocol “not fair.”
“We all felt the pain, ” Woods said. “We all are still hurting from it. I feel like, if you’re going to divide the money, do the right thing and divide it evenly.”
Brian Pinson, who was shot in the backside as he ran from the shooting, said the financial toll of the shooting has piled up along with the physical pain and mental trauma.
The money will be helpful, Pinson said.“I ended up losing a job, we’re behind on rent, medical, a whole lot of stuff,” he said.
Pinson’s girlfriend Britaney Jones, also a victim, hasn’t been back to her restaurant job since she was shot in the left hand and lost her thumb.
“I appreciate it,” she said of the charity fund, but said life since the shooting has been a struggle. “Money ain’t going to solve everything. Money ain’t going to bring my thumb back.”
‘A pretty poor substitute for loss’
Feinberg and Biros are known nationally as authorities in compensating victims of disasters in post-shooting or post-disaster claims programs.
Feinberg and Biros have worked with the cities of Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla. as they navigated this terrain in the wake of their own horrific experiences. Feinberg has administered a compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and oversaw payouts resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Feinberg and his firm have also worked with survivors of mass shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., among other cities.
“This is all cold math, that’s what this is — very efficient, very streamlined and very quick,” Feinberg said in a 2018 interview with National Public Radio.
“It’s a pretty poor substitute for the loss of a loved one, but it’s the system,” Feinberg said. “It’s the best we can do.”
Biros said the concept of “equality” — sharing with everyone an equal amount of money — will not be useful in this situation.
“Just think about that for a moment,” she said. “You give the same amount of money to the family of a deceased victim, and an equal amount of money to someone who was injured, say, and just went to the emergency room and was released.”
“It just seems inequitable to us to do that,” Biros added.
Typically, the largest benefit from these claims efforts does go to families of the deceased, said Jeff Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund, an advocacy organization for crime victims that administers these types of charitable funds.
There are good reasons why the families of those killed should receive the most, Dion maintains.
“Because it is the most serious of injuries and the most permanent,” he said. “They have totally lost someone.”
‘You’re not going to snap out of it’
On an early Sunday in June 2016, a 29-year-old security guard walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando with a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun. Before a SWAT team killed him three hours later, the gunman murdered 49 people and wounded more than 50 others.
By Monday morning, the Orlando Magic NBA team and Disney, among others, wanted to contribute to a fund for victims and survivors.
Ultimately, about $30 million was raised for what became the One Orlando Fund.
The distribution formula was similar to Dayton’s, as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer described it: The largest percentage went to families of the deceased. Smaller percentages went to the injured, with amounts based on length of hospital stay. Witnesses to the horror also received money.
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“There was very little criticism,” Dyer said. “We had $30 million to distribute. People were getting a fair amount of money.”
Donations continued to pour in even after the distribution, another $3 million or $4 million. Dyer and others decided to distribute those late donations in the same manner.
Today, Dyer told the Dayton Daily News, he sees that as a “mistake.” Now, he says he should have set aside those late donations for counseling services for those suffering lingering effects.
“There are some people from the Pulse shootings who are just now coming to get counseling or services,” Dyer said. “This isn’t — you’re not going to snap out of it right away.”
The Orlando mayor said he called Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley the morning after Aug. 4 shootings to offer help and to share his own hard-won experience.
“If you haven’t been through it, you just don’t think about it,” Dyer said.
‘The greatest strength, compassion and resilience’
Biros says that based on what she has seen, Dayton’s volunteers are doing a good job so far.
”We think they’re doing it absolutely right,” she said. “Based on what we know, we completely agree with their allocation and their categorizations.”
Dayton has done so far what other communities have done: Draft a set of distribution criteria for dividing funds and hold public town-hall meetings to give survivors and residents a chance to offer input.
Biros and Feinberg have advised Dayton volunteers to make peace with the idea that not everyone will be satisfied by how dollars are divided.
“There are people who have different views,” Biros said. “There are people who strongly believe that people who were seriously injured should be allocated more money than the families of the deceased.”
One aspect of the Dayton shootings has proven unusual. The Betts family lost daughter Megan and a son whom police have identified as the shooter responsible for the nine deaths.
The question of whether to compensate the Betts family is a difficult one, Feinberg said. “That’s a tough one. I’ve never seen one like that. I’ve never had one (like that) in 30 years.”
The idea was criticized in the recent town hall meetings at Sinclair.
“I just think that would be an insult to our community, an insult to people who died and to people who are still hurting,” a woman said at the meeting.
In the end, Feinberg said he would probably advise the foundation not to write the Betts family a check, should they apply for funds.
“We would say, ‘Probably deny the parents the funds as ineligible,’” Feinberg said. “But (I) hope that the solution here is — because it is really Solomonic, I think — get some advance notice as to whether the parents even want the money.”
Ultimately, this kind of charity speaks well of Americans, Feinberg and Biros say. After the Boston Marathon bombing, $62 million was raised for victims and survivors there. More than $31 million was raised for Las Vegas shooting victims.
“It’s just unbelievable how the public sort of immediately starts funding these charitable funds,” Biros said.
“Only in America,” Feinberg said. “We’ve learned over the last 30 years, never underestimate the charitable impulse of the American people.”
“Every day I deal with the worse things that human beings can do to one another,” Dion said. “But I also deal with the greatest strength and compassion and resilience — and that’s what represented by these funds.”
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