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Families of past mass shootings victims work to help Fort Hood

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 10, 2014 11:53 p.m. CDT

Family members of those killed in mass shootings in recent years have helped start a new charity dedicated to making sure money donated goes to those affected by a tragedy.

The National Compassion Fund was activated to help families who suffered in the wake of the April 2 Fort Hood shooting where Spc. Ivan Lopez killed three soldiers and wounded 16 others before killing himself. The account for the Fort Hood shooting was created on Monday, said Mai Fernandez, the executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, which is overseeing the fund.

So far about $1,000 has been raised, Fernandez said.

She added there hasn't been a huge amount of marketing thus far and said she expects the fundraiser will continue for three or four months. After that, money will be dispersed to those affected.

Fernandez said running the compassion fund for the Fort Hood shooting is a beta test.

"We're trying out this concept, nobody has done it before up until now," Fernandez said.

After past mass shootings, such as in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater where Crystal Lake native John Larimer was killed, charities popped up taking donations for victims and even using pictures of people who had died. However, money didn't directly go to victims or their families. Money was used to pay for administrative costs, or distributed to other causes that had little to do with the donor’s intent.

So family members of those killed in mass murders at Northern Illinois University, Columbine, Virginia Tech and the Oak Creek Sikh Temple, among others, worked to start the National Compassion Fund.

"This is our flagship attempt of this organization to be put into motion," said Scott Larimer, father of John Larimer.

When there are tragedies such as mass shootings, money donated will go directly to those affected by the tragedy and not toward administrative costs, Larimer said.

"It's not paying these salaries and overhead under the covers of people rushing to help in a tragedy," Larimer said.

When the Larimers ultimately received money donated in the wake of the Aurora shootings, they decided to donate it to a handful of organizations such as groups that host sailors from the Great Lakes Naval base on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Larimer said he had been on multiple conference calls with family members after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., to help them understand what to expect when it came to various charities so they weren't caught off guard.

There also is an expert panel of volunteers with experience in mass crime victim compensation and the needs of crime victims. The panel also includes victim representatives from past mass casualty crimes to ensure the voice of the victims are heard and are part of the distribution process, according to the fund website.

The panel will consult with victims and their families, law enforcement and others affected to determine the eligible victim pool and the distribution pool.

The National Center of Victims of Crime, a nonprofit that advocates for victims' rights, public policy and trains professionals who work with victims, agreed to administer the fund. The center has been around for 30 years.

"We needed something that has the same major goal," Larimer said.

"This one seemed like the best fit," he added.

To help start up the fund, there had to be fundraising to pay for the necessary capital, such as servers and a website, and to pay for the administrative costs.

Fernandez said $125,000 was raised during the course of the past year. About half of the money went toward setting up the necessary equipment, the other half was put away for when the fund needed to be administered.

Money for future administrative costs would be raised in future fundraisers dedicated toward those specific costs, Larimer said.

On the National Compassion Fund website is the ability to donate with credit card. However, people have the option of also paying the 3 percent service charge on top of their donation.

Organizers hope to find a sponsor to help cover those fees in the future, Larimer said. Fernandez added, by starting a national compassion fund, money would be safely accounted and "goes safely back into the hands of who the public wanted to see this money go to in the first place."

For more information, or to donate go to www.nationalcompassionfund.org

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