OKC bombing victims group to ask for distribution of funds
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Wednesday, November 07, 2012
11/09/12 at 3:22 PM
Check the numbers: Read the latest financial report to the IRS on the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund.
OKLAHOMA CITY - A group representing those injured and killed in the 1995 federal building bombing plans to ask Gov. Mary Fallin this week to remove $10 million from an Oklahoma City foundation's control to be divided among victims.
The request follows a Tulsa World investigation that found that some victims reported being denied assistance by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which oversees the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund. Records show that in 2005 the foundation spent more than $4 million from the fund for other purposes, including contributions to other disaster funds.
The letter from the "Survivor Tree" group states: "In light of the investigation by the Tulsa World, we are asking you, Governor Fallin, to close the Oklahoma City Disaster Recovery Fund, Inc. We are asking the fund be closed and distributed among the victims."
The April 19, 1995, bombing killed 168 people and injured more than 600 others, with 83 people admitted to hospitals for treatment.
Nancy Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Anthony has said the bombing relief fund is overseen by a five-member board of trustees and is included in annual audits of the foundation's funds.
"There were at least 14 other funds established at that time," Anthony said in an email to the World last month. "This fund was not exclusive in any way. Because it still exists, we somewhat unfairly are asked to 'account' for all of the assistance that was given to survivors when in fact we were just one of a group of funds."
Deloris Watson, whose grandson was injured in the building's day-care center, said she and others plan to deliver the letter to Fallin on Thursday. Watson's grandson, P.J. Allen, was the youngest survivor of the day-care center.
The letter states that the group has contacted attorney Kenneth Feinberg, "who has offered to come to Oklahoma, at your request, to disburse funds among victims in a fair and expedient manner. He has offered his services pro bono."
Feinberg helped determine settlement payments to victims of the 9/11 attacks, BP oil spill and Virginia Tech shootings. He also stepped in after public criticism arose in Aurora, Colo., over a foundation's handling of donations from a movie theater shooting spree.
Feinberg confirmed Tuesday that if state officials ask him to help, he would not charge a fee. He added that he is not familiar with the facts or circumstances surrounding the bombing relief fund.
"I received a couple of calls from individuals in Oklahoma seeking my assistance in designing and distributing a claims-compensation program," Feinberg said Tuesday. "I said, 'Look, if policy makers contact me and ask me for my assistance, I'd be glad to help.' "
The group's letter requests the return of "all monies in the fund now, plus dividends, interest, reallocated money and donations."
"For years we have heard stories of victims denied assistance from the fund. Other victims were told there are no funds available," the letter says.
It is signed by Watson; Holly Sweet, a Tulsa resident who donated to the fund following the bombing; and Gloria Chipman, whose husband died in the bombing.
More than $40 million was donated to help victims after the bombing, mostly by private individuals across the nation.
The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma has $2 million remaining in a fund to help survivors, officials said last week.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation received $14.6 million in contributions from 6,000 donors. It has spent $11 million so far "on assistance and contributions to the memorial," according to a written response by Anthony to questions submitted by the World.
Anthony has said that because of earnings, about $10 million remains, with about half designated for educational assistance and the remainder for long-term medical needs.
"We have generated significant earnings over the 17-year period. These earnings have been allocated to areas where we felt the long-term need was significant," Anthony's response states.
Foundation records show that it "reallocated" $4.4 million in 2005 to causes not directly related to bombing victims. Of that, $2 million was set aside to prepare for future disasters and $1.5 million went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, records show.
Watson said that was the year the foundation turned down her request to take Allen to an out-of-state specialist for removal of his tracheotomy tube. Because the surgery has a high failure rate, Watson said she sought a surgeon with a track record of success.
"And they in turn sent me a letter saying he had to have five failed surgeries in the state of Oklahoma, ... and this was during the same time they decided to 'look at other issues,' according to Nancy Anthony," Watson said.
"I wasn't asking them to do anything else but provide adequate health care for P.J. Allen, to make sure this child never had to worry about being able to go to the doctor and get his medical needs met."
Joann Thompson, whose husband died in the bombing, said the foundation turned down several requests for assistance she made over the years.
Thompson said she was a stay-at-home mother with three children at the time her husband, Michael Thompson, died in the Social Security Administration offices. Since the bombing, Thompson has lost her home, she said.
"Anything we've ever asked for was pretty much turned down," she said. "We lost everything. It affected our whole life."
By the numbers
Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health
- A total of 852 people were injured or killed as a direct result of the bombing.
- 168 people (including 19 children) died
- 447 people treated in hospitals: 83 admitted and 364 treated at emergency rooms and released
- 237 people treated in a private physician's office
Original Print Headline: OKC bombing group to seek help
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306
The Oklahoma City National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. Tulsa World file