A handful of groups raising money for the victims of last month’s Lafayette theater shooting met Monday to discuss how to distribute a growing total of at least $275,000 collected for the victims over a three-week period.
Disbursing that money comes with more legal and bureaucratic red tape than simply handing over a check, calling for a collaborative of decision-makers to help iron out the details. The United Way of Acadiana is spearheading the effort, through which those involved are working to identify who gets the money, how much of it they’ll get and how they’ll receive it.
“We want them to be comfortable and confident that the monies are being given out in a fair manner,” said Margaret Trahan, president and CEO of United Way of Acadiana.
Most of the contributions are coming from Pixus Digital Printing, the Lafayette company selling sought-after apparel and signs declaring “Lafayette Strong.”
Pixus CEO Todd Landry said his company has raised about $215,000 intended for the 11 people shot that night, with a number of local vendors still selling the products in their stores.
“We are still in fundraising mode,” Landry said at the Monday meeting.
Other companies and nonprofit organizations have raised an estimated $60,000, said Aaron Williams, United Way’s community collaborations manager.
All of the money is intended first for the victims’ medical bills, followed by income losses, funeral costs, counseling and monthly household expenses, according to a needs hierarchy presented Monday. Long-term needs like medications and ongoing physical and mental therapy also were considered.
Of the nine injured that night, one person remains in an area hospital. The others were released sporadically in the week following the shooting.
In effort to streamline communication with the victims, the fundraising group is asking them to fill out a questionnaire identifying any out-of-pocket expenses they’ve incurred since the shooting and any they anticipate in the future. It also gives them an opportunity to offer feedback on the fundraising efforts.
“We need to know what those needs are so we can respond appropriately,” said Jason Huffman, strategies director with United Way of Acadiana.
The 11 direct victims and their immediate family members may also be eligible for assistance from a state fund that disburses financial relief to innocent victims of violent crimes.
Those who request the funds are eligible for up to $2,500 in compensation. But that amount is meant to cover the primary victim and all of his or her family members who may need mental health services following a traumatic incident, said Amy Daigle, claims investigator for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.
That number could increase to $5,000 on an appeal, Daigle said. But anyone who requests those funds could encounter a roadblock should they receive additional donations, as the state could legally request the initial compensation dollars be paid back.
The earliest anyone would receive compensation from the state would be at the end of September, Daigle said.
The lead investigator in the shooting, Detective Stephen Bajat, has been serving as the conduit between the fundraising group and the victims — a number that he said should include all 29 people inside Screen 14 on July 23, when a gunman killed two women and injured nine other people during a showing of the comedy “Trainwreck.”
Although police initially reported 25 tickets were sold to the film that night, Bajat on Monday said 29 of the more than 300 people at the cineplex were inside the fated auditorium.
The victims have remained on guard since the shooting, not only because of the severe trauma associated with the event, but also because of the incessant media attention they’ve received since the shooting, Bajat said.
“There’s some people that really want this to move on,” Bajat said, “but they do have needs.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.