September 11, 2023

Venable Paralegals Donate Their Time to Help Mass Shooting Victims and Survivors

4 min

On April 10, 2023, an employee walked into the Old National Bank on East Main Street in Louisville, Kentucky, carrying an AR-15-style rifle. He shot and killed five of his colleagues who were gathered in a conference room for a virtual meeting. Meeting attendees saw the shooting unfold in real time through their computer screens.

In the aftermath of a mass shooting like the one in Louisville, members of the victims' communities often set up survivors' funds to accept donations. These funds can be difficult to police, and well-meaning people looking to support survivors can easily become victims of scammers.

To ensure that 100% of donations go to survivors with physical, mental, or emotional trauma, the National Compassion Fund (NCF) establishes professionally administered funds in the wake of mass casualty crimes. Since 2014, NCF has established and administered 29 funds, collecting and distributing more than $140 million in charitable contributions directly to 4,269 survivors.

The organization is able to give 100% of donations to survivors thanks to the pro bono work of paralegals like Venable's Tina Adair, Donna Bitzelberger, Carol Walsh, Tina Goldy, Linda Lowry, and Janice Roberts. Lowry recently completed reviewing claims for the Love for Louisville Old National Survivors Fund to ensure that all donations go to the right place.

"We have a screening process we've set up so that we can verify the applicant's presence at whatever event it is that we're covering," Lowry said. "We can verify any medical treatments, psychological treatments, inpatient or outpatient. We can look at the legality of their claims and the distribution to surviving family members."

For the Louisville shooting, Lowry screened applicants who included anyone in the bank at the time of the shooting, victims' surviving family members, and the employees in satellite branches who witnessed the shooting via videoconference. She reviewed documents like marriage and death certificates to verify eligibility and make sure that all people who would be compensated from the fund sign off on how benefits will be distributed.

Individual payments are based on a person's loss, type of injury, or experience of trauma, with equal payments going to victims who were similarly impacted. The entire process is conducted with full transparency to ensure fair distribution. Lowry has worked on 11 funds for the organization since 2019, and Venable paralegals have collectively contributed more than 150 pro bono hours to administering funds.

Before NCF was established in 2014, victims and survivors often experienced stressful and prolonged negotiations in attempting to collect money donated in their names. NCF director Jeff Dion said that victims and survivors of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shooting sought help from the National Center for Victims of Crime in establishing a new type of fund to address these issues. Instead of establishing a one-time fund, the advocacy group created the subsidiary NCF to put the infrastructure in place to efficiently handle future tragedies and help all victims and survivors, not just those who died or were seriously wounded.

"One of the concerns of the original Aurora fund was if someone wasn't killed or didn't suffer a physical injury, they weren't eligible for benefits," Dion said. "But we know that there were people in that theater whose loved ones died in their arms, or sometimes died protecting them, and to say that that individual didn't qualify—we couldn't abide."

Non-attorneys rarely have the opportunity to participate in a firm's pro bono program, so Lowry said she appreciates the chance to help and encourages others to volunteer as well. 

While the work can take an emotional toll, she finds comfort in being a part of the healing process for survivors and guaranteeing that every cent of every dollar donated goes directly to victims.

"You are taking the place of somebody that perhaps would do this for pay and reduce the amount of benefit to the victims," she said.

Dion said that the work of Venable and other firms in validating applicants' claims ensures that the process is fair and thorough, adding additional layers of credibility and transparency to the organization's work.

"We're so appreciative of all of Venable's help in running these funds," he said. "When we administer a fund, it is really important for people to have confidence in the process."