OKC bombing survivors group offers condolences, fund advice to Newtown
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Saturday, December 29, 2012
12/29/12 at 6:18 AM
Complete coverage: Read past stories and view documents related to the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - A group of Oklahoma City bombing survivors has sent a letter to officials in Connecticut offering sympathy and advice about handling donations following a deadly school shooting.
"We stand with the nation and pay our respects to your broken families and grief in a way that is unique. ... We understand your pain and we are so very sorry," states the letter from the Survivor Tree Committee to Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. The letter was also sent to Patricia Llodra, a town official in Newtown, Conn.
A gunman burst into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, killing 20 children and six educators.
The letter, dated Dec. 18, is signed by Gloria Chipman, Deloris Watson, Darrel McKnight and Holly Sweet.
Chipman's husband, Robert Chipman, was killed in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. Watson's grandson, P.J. Allen, the youngest survivor of the blast, suffered severe injuries.
McKnight, a former emergency medical technician, was among the first to respond to the bombing. Sweet is a donor who helped organize the Survivor Tree group.
The letter also offers advice about handling donations intended to help the grieving families. Since the shooting, $3.5 million has been donated to help victims' families with funeral expenses and other needs.
"Our only gift is advice," the Survivor Tree Committee's letter states. "Our unfolding scandal in Oklahoma is an example of what can go horribly wrong when a decision is made to put donations into a foundation as opposed to getting them directly to the people for whom they are intended."
Watson, of Oklahoma City, raised and cared for her grandson as he recovered from severe lung injuries after the bombing.
"I am hoping that they will really look at the various organizations that step up to oversee their funds because the bombing victims of Oklahoma, we had absolutely no input into how and where our money was placed," she said.
The Survivor Tree Committee was formed following a Tulsa World investigation this fall into the handling of funds that were donated to help victims of the bombing. The nonprofit Oklahoma City Community Foundation holds in its Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund about $10 million in remaining donations and interest earned in the 17 years since the bombing.
Numerous survivors say the foundation denied their requests for help with medical expenses, tuition and other expenses the fund was designed to help with. Others said they didn't know the Oklahoma City Disaster Relief Fund existed as they struggled to pay for their own care.
The foundation declined this week to comment on the group's letter. In response to public criticism, the foundation announced last month that it would seek an audit.
Nancy Anthony, president of the foundation, has said claims by some survivors that the foundation refused to pay for expenses connected to the bombing are either inaccurate or misunderstandings. The foundation cannot address individual cases due to the need for confidentiality, Anthony said.
Patrick Kinney, a spokesman for the United Way of Western Connecticut, said the nonprofit organization is "guardian of these funds for the time being" until Newtown officials can select a committee to oversee donations.
"Those folks will be members of the Newtown community, because we feel it's critical to have members of the community make the decisions about how these funds will be used," Kinney said.
A number of other funds have also been set up by other organizations to benefit the Newtown families, he said.
The United Way is not charging a management fee for handling the donation fund, the organization's website states.
Kim Morgan, CEO of the United Way of Western Connecticut, said in a release: "We want to express our deepest appreciation for the support the Sandy Hook School Support Fund has received. The needs facing Newtown will be many and diverse, and the Sandy Hook School Support Fund will be a vital resource as the community grieves, heals and rebuilds."
Newtown vigil prays for healing
NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) - Religious leaders from different faiths gathered Friday on a wind-swept, snowy soccer field to mark two weeks since the Connecticut elementary school massacre and pray for healing.
A few dozen residents joined representatives from Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Congregational, Buddhist, Muslim and other places of worship.
"Your faith leaders want you to know that we continue to stand with you as we all continue to deal with this great tragedy that has befallen our beloved community of Newtown," said the Rev. Jack Tanner, of Newtown Christian Church. "It is only the beginning of a long healing process that we will all go through."
"We are your children, your hurting children from many faiths, many traditions, many cultures, from many parts of the Earth," said the Rev. Leo McIlrath, of the Lutheran Home of Southbury. "We cry out to you. We are in pain and we ask for your healing."
Vicky Truitt, who works at Newtown Congregational Church, said she had been feeling worn down before the service. "Today it was helpful, the prayers that they gave, to hear all the different denominations all together as one," Truitt said.
Original Print Headline: OKC bombing survivors group offers fund advice
Ziva Branstetter 918-581-8306