Colorado has its history of mass violence, but a new nonprofit kickstarted by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office will help organize community response to those events.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office on Tuesday announced that it is providing $1 million in seed funding to help create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that will provide relief to victims of mass violent crimes. The organization, the Colorado Healing Fund, is founded by a group of community leaders and victim advocates and hopes to provide an organized and safe way for the public to give money to victims of mass tragedies.
Coffman, at a press conference Tuesday, said the office is using its focus on consumer protection to be proactive in helping direct money to victims rather than to scammers that might look to capitalize on tragedy.
“We hope we never have to use the Colorado Healing Fund to respond to a tragedy, but we owe it to Coloradans to use what we have learned from previous tragedies to ensure that in the future, we do all we can to support victims,” Coffman said. “I’ve seen money from good-hearted people land in the hands of scammers who take advantage of tragic circumstances rather than help those who desperately need it.”
The organization has been in the works since 2016, but Coffman said it was spurred ahead by the mass shooting in Las Vegas in November 2017 where a gunman killed 59 people attending an outdoor country music festival. Coffman said her office offered support to the Nevada attorney general and saw how the state struggled to meet the needs of the many victims.
The Healing Fund will respond in similar situations by serving as a centralized place to send funds but will also direct those funds to other organizations providing direct help. It is set up to provide financial assistance to meet both immediate and long-term needs of victims, survivors and their families that don’t get met through other mechanisms. The organization is designed to collect donations year-round through ColoradoHealingFund.org as well as through in-person donations at FirstBank locations around the state. When not directly responding to a crisis, the organization will offer trainings for law enforcement and first responders.
Examples of aid include medical care, housing and food as well as any other need that might arise. Following the Planned Parenthood shooting, cars parked outside the building were taken as evidence, so victims and survivors of the attack were left without transportation. In such a situation, support might include providing money for car rentals.
Lt. Governor Donna Lynne said the Healing Fund will work in collaboration with other victim services organizations and law enforcement agencies in order to avoid duplicating any work.
Coffman said that Colorado’s experience with mass violence such as the shootings at Columbine High School, the Aurora Century 16 movie theater and the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood has helped state leaders and organizations learn how to respond to such events. And those events have made the state learn how important it is to take care of the victims, Coffman said.
The $1 million provided by the Attorney General’s Office is seed money so the organization will be able to respond immediately when an event happens, but it might not go far — large-scale acts of violence can run in the tens of millions of dollars in total recovery costs. Coffman said she believes that in the aftermath of violence, more money will flow in quickly from the community. The seed money provided by the AG’s office comes from the state’s prior consumer protection settlements
Former Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis said he believed having such a fund would have helped in the aftermath of the high school’s shooting. He said he saw outside support for the school taper off after the last graduating class of survivors left the school, but he saw victims continue to be affected by the shooting to this day, 20 years after the event.
“The generosity and support of the community magnifies and multiplies us, giving us the capacity to do those things that need to be done but which we cannot do alone,” DeAngelis said. “It isn’t just the days and weeks after an event when survivors need help, the impacts are felt for years to come.” He said there’s a good chance that Colorado will need to use the fund at some point and he feels reassured knowing that any community affected by such acts in the future won’t be left helpless.
Colorado Healing Fund is supported by an advisory committee that includes experts in victim advocacy and assistance and has a board of trustees that includes Coffman, Lynne and DeAngelis as well as Bernie Buescher, James Davis, retired Major General Michael Edwards, Robin Finegan, Dorit Mokovsky Fischer, Dr. Tony Frank, L. Roger Hutson and Steve Siegel.
– Tony Flesor