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9/11 mediator to oversee Aurora shooting donations

Family members and victims leave court after a hearing for suspected movie theater shooter James Holmes in district court in Centennial, Colo., on Thursday.
Family members and victims leave court after a hearing for suspected movie theater shooter James Holmes in district court in Centennial, Colo., on Thursday.

DENVER – The mediator who oversaw compensation for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks will oversee the distribution of money donated to the victims of the deadly shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday.

The attack July 20 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” left 12 people dead and 58 wounded. Crystal Lake native John Larimer, 27, was one of those killed. Larimer, a Navy cryptologic technician, was stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

Hickenlooper said that Kenneth Feinberg won't be paid in his role as a special master overseeing the distribution of donations. Feinberg is taking the role "as a patriot in the purest way," the governor said.

Feinberg said he would apply the lessons he's learned from overseeing compensation for victims of the 9/11 attacks, the Virginia Tech shooting and the BP oil spill. Colorado officials who have overseen the compensation fund for Aurora victims have been criticized for how long it's taken to distribute money.

"I think I'm doing what millions of Americans would do if asked," Feinberg said. "I've had experience doing this, so I get the call. This is not rocket science. This is trying to take a limited pot of money, distribute it as soon as you can, as quickly as you can to eligible people in sore need of this money."

The Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance, the 7/20 Committee and the Community First Foundation have all worked in different capacities on the fund for Aurora victims.

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.

"We recognize that this has not been an easy process and recognize and understand the frustration that many of the family members of the victims have experienced," Hickenlooper said.

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.

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 9/11 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.

It was also revealed Friday that Cinemark said in a letter it plans to reopen the theater where the Colorado shooting occurred. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan asked the company to refurbish and reopen the theater based on request from victims and victim's advocates.

James Holmes, a former University of Colorado, Denver, graduate student, has been charged with 152 counts of murder, attempted murder and other crimes in the July 20 shooting. The 24-year-old has not entered a plea.


Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin and Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.

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