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Plan unveiled for distribution of San Bernardino victims' fund

Plan unveiled for distribution of San Bernardino victims' fund
Fourteen people were killed and more than 20 injured in the Dec. 2 massacre at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Under a draft plan, most of the $2.4 million in donations will be distributed to survivors and victims' relatives. (David McNew / AFP/Getty Images)

Nearly four months after 14 people were killed and 24 injured in the worst terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, San Bernardino community leaders announced a plan to distribute about $2.4 million donated to family members and survivors. About 100 people gathered Wednesday night in the council chambers at San Bernardino City Hall to review the draft plan drawn up by a committee of 15 of the largest donors and community leaders.

Families of deceased victims will divide 80% of the funds, and those who were physically injured and taken to a hospital will divide 15.5%. Those present during the holiday party for county health workers where the massacre occurred, including those in the restroom or on a smoke break, will divide the remaining 4.5%.

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None of the funds will go to administrative fees, officials said. In all, about $2.4 million has been donated to the Arrowhead United Way's relief fund.

Dozens of partygoers had gathered for the holiday event Dec. 2 at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in Redlands, opened fire. Farook was a health department employee. The couple fled but were killed in a shootout with law enforcement.

Each of the families of the 14 people killed will be eligible for about $140,629, and the 24 people, including first responders, who suffered physical injuries will be eligible for a base of $5,000 plus $1,000 for each overnight hospital stay. Thirty-seven people who were present during the attack are eligible for $2,993 each.

Former San Bernardino mayor and committee chairman Patrick Morris said the group, which has been meeting since January, studied procedures used by committees handling funds after other attacks, including the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

The San Bernardino group faced a difficult task in trying to assign a dollar value to unimaginable loss.

"Money is a poor substitute ... but it is the best we can do," Morris said. "This is not fair compensation, no matter how the resources are divided."

Once the allocation plan is finalized April 4, victims and witnesses will need to file claims to the Arrowhead United Way office by May 22 in order to receive payment, officials said.

Funds for those who choose to forgo the money will be distributed to other claimants.

In the absence of national guidelines, the United Way and other nonprofit groups have often stepped in after mass casualty crimes to set up donation funds for those affected.

However, their methods sometimes sparked controversy. Critics argue that donations should benefit only those directly affected by a tragedy rather than the broader causes of the charity.

"No good deed goes unpunished," said Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who has become the nation's go-to expert on victim compensation after overseeing distribution plans after many tragedies, including Sept. 11, the Virginia Tech shootings and Boston Marathon bombings.

"You set up a fund, and who gets what? They tend to promote some divisiveness among the very people you're trying to help," he said.

Among those attending the San Bernardino meeting was Anita Busch, whose cousin was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. She told families about situations following other tragedies in which victims thought that funds promised to them were instead directed to the charities' administrative costs or other causes.

"We want to make sure every penny is given to the families of these victims," she said. "I would strongly suggest that you ask a lot of questions."

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Busch said she and others affected by mass shootings established the National Compassion Fund, which donates 100% of proceeds to victims.

Robert Velasco, whose daughter Yvette was killed in the San Bernardino attack, said he was satisfied with the plan.

"It sounds like the committee did good by everybody," Velasco said. "I really appreciate the community and the country and everybody who contributed."

Others, however, questioned the plan's fairness. Gregory Clayborn, whose daughter Sierra was killed, said some, including first responders, have already received money through workers' compensation, insurance or other funds and would be able to "double dip."

"Those funds need to be distributed to those who are most in need," Clayborn said.

Arlen Verdehyou, who lost his wife, Bennetta
Betbadal, in the attack, said he was grateful for the
donations but preferred that funds be evenly distributed.

He said some need the money more than he does. He said he has contacted other victims' families about pooling and redistributing their potential claims.

"We are all one family, and that family has to be equal in the end," Verdehyou said.

taylor.goldenstein @latimes.com

Twitter: @taygoldenstein

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