The families of the Colorado theater shooting victims came together publicly for the first time today in a press conference fueled by pain, anger and frustration over the actions of a charity fund set up to help the families.
In the wake of the shooting that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded, a non-profit called Giving First set up the Aurora Victims Relief Fund, which was supported by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Members of the public and private entities have raised $5 million through the fund, but the families say that the charity has not been working fast enough to distribute the money and that they are not including the victims' families in the decision making process.
The group was led by Tom Teves, whose 24-year-old son Alex Teves died protecting his girlfriend from the gunfire in the theater on July 20, 2012.
"Forget about having a robust guiding voice, the victims have no voice at all," Teves said. "Fighting for justice is not easy for us because we are doing this at a time in our lives when we are in extreme pain."
"It's incomprehensible what we have to do," he said. "There's not enough money in the federal government to replace what we lost."
Teves said that the $5 million was collected "using our murdered loved one's pictures and names" with the promise that all of the money would go directly to the victims' families.
"Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case," Teves said.
Only a fraction of the money has made its way to the victims so far, Teves said, with priority being given to various non-profit organizations. He claimed that it was only after the families started making noise about the funds that the the organization distributed $350,000. Each of the 70 victims' families was given $5,000.
Chantel Blunk, the wife of Jonathan Blunk who died in the theater, said that she was told the $5,000 should cover funeral costs, psychiatric help, debts and other necessities.
"How do you raise a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old until they're 18 with $5,000?" Blunk asked incredulously. She added that she was denied money for a plane ticket to bring her child with her to Colorado.
Giving First did not respond to request for comment but officials at the Colorado Organization for Victim's Assistance, a non-profit that has distributed a small portion of the money collected by Giving First, refused to comment specifically on the families' claims.
"One hundred percent of what goes to COVA goes to crime victims," Executive Director Nancy Lewis told ABC News. "We don't take a cent."
Lewis declined further comment, claiming her organization is bound by a gag order issued by the judge overseeing the case.
However, that order from Arapahoe County District Court judge William Sylvester makes clear that only attorneys, law enforcement and court personnel are prohibited from talking about the case.
The families made a few passing references to accused shooter James Holmes, referring to him as a "coward," "somebody sick" and a "horrible man," but made it clear that they did not want to give him any more publicity than he has already received.
Holmes is accused of a mass killing in which he sprayed bullets into a crowded movie theater during a midnight premiere screening of the Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," on July 20. Twelve people were killed and 58 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, as measured by number of people shot.
Holmes was charged with 24 counts of first degree murder, two counts for each of the people he is accused of killing. He was also charged with 116 counts of attempted first degree murder, one count of possessing an explosive device and one count of violent crime. He faces a total of 142 criminal charges.
"None of us allowed our family members to leave for a movie and never come back or come back wounded," an impassioned Deidra Brooks said. Her Jarell Brooks, 19, was shot while helping get a mother and her two children out of the movie theater.
"Somebody sick inflicted pain on all of our lives," Brooks said. "My heart bleeds for these 12 families, but my heart [also] bleeds because 72 families will never be the same again."
Teves also called on Hickenlooper to help the families, saying that his requests to speak to the governor have not been answered.
"Gov. Hickenlooper, you came and grieved with our families," he said. "We allowed you into our inner most circle at the worst time in our lives. We didn't do this lightly. You pledged 12 times, 'We will remember.' Are you a man that is true to your words or are they just words?"
At a vigil days after the shooting, Hickenlooper said the name of each shooting victim and led the crowd in a refrain of "We will remember" after each name.
The governor's spokesman Eric Brown said, "Everyone involved is trying to do the right thing in a very difficult situation. We understand the frustration shared today by victims' families. That's why we have been advocating for them to have a greater voice in the process. We have also actively supported the 7/20 Recovery Committee to improve communication and the ongoing distribution of assistance. Families have received money and other services through the great generosity of others. They will receive more."
Multiple family members said that they were not looking to "get rich" from the funds.
"We have nothing to gain as the family of the murder victims," Teves said. "We have already lost everything. Evil started this. Good has to finish it. It's time to pick a side."