Almost two years after the Newtown shooting, millions in charitable donations have not been directed to adequately support the needs of the victims’ families, the parents of two murdered children told a state commission Friday.
“The world has this perspective that the families are all set. I just want to let you know — A) there’s no such thing and B) It’s not true,” Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, told the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission during a meeting at Newtown’s C.H. Booth Library.
Marquez-Greene appeared before the commission with Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel, the parents of Avielle Richman. Both families lost their 6-year-old daughters on Dec. 14, 2012, when a gunman murdered 20 children and six adults at Newtown Elementary School.
Well-wishers sent millions of dollars in donations after the incident. A United Way fund set up immediately after the shooting had around $12 million and distributed about $8 million last year. A host of other charities were also created.
But during Friday’s meeting, the three parents expressed frustration over how the outpouring of donated funds have been directed.
“It is absolutely disheartening after 23 months to hear of an impacted family with unmet needs,” Marquez-Greene said. “That is a tragedy and should not be happening. Where is all the money going?”
She said offers for support were often confusing and sometimes never materialized even when she tried calling for them.
“In the end, our own private insurance company paid and continues to pay for most of our mental health needs. So where are the mental health dollars going?” she asked.
The parents also spoke of their struggles to maintain ownership of a tragedy that left an entire community grieving.
“We own this tragedy,” Richman said. “No government officials, no town or national charity organization, no faith-based group, no community leader truly has right to speak or represent the views of the 26 different families.”
People seeking to help the families of the victims should research the causes championed by those families, Richman said. He encouraged people to visit the “My Sandy Hook Family” website, which he said was the only source representing all 26 families. He said well-wishers should support the foundations set up there by the individual families.
“When you give money, ask where your funds are going. Who do they support? Do they support the victim families directly or indirectly? Make sure your donations are going where you intend them to go,” he said.
Both families have set up foundations, the Ana Grace Project and the Avielle Foundation, with different approaches to research designed to prevent violence. Richman said the foundations “are our legacies.” Hensel said the organizations were a way for the families to return the “wave of love and support” they felt from the world after the shooting.
However, 23 months after the tragedy, Hensel said her family often feels separated from the rest of the Newtown community. Communication is lacking and families sometimes wonder if they will see support from funding that comes to the town, she said.
“Are we segregated so much from the community that we’re not considered part of it anymore? Are we considered ‘all set,’ and all of our needs have been met? Is the community not recognizing that’s not true?” she said.
The 16-member Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is expected to issue a final report sometime after the second anniversary of the shooting. The families asked the panel to make recommendations to manage the overwhelming news media presence in the aftermath of incident.
Both families told the group that the loss of their children was still difficult to handle almost two years after it occurred. Marquez-Greene said her husband and surviving child were committed to the mantra that “every day is an opportunity to allow love to win.”
“Every day is also some hellish version of the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ Every day is replete with pain, grief, and loss from the minute we take our first conscious breath in the morning until the moment we go to bed,” she said.