A lawyer who ran the Sept. 11 victim compensation program will help Virginia Tech distribute its $7.1 million fund for victims of the mass shootings, university officials said Thursday.
University President Charles Steger said Washington, D.C., lawyer Kenneth Feinberg was approached because of his experience and because “we felt we did not have the capability to manage the fund properly.”
“We need someone with that experience to make sure we do it right,” Steger said. “As we got into it, we discovered that it is a very complicated enterprise.”
Feinberg served without pay for 33 months as special master of the government’s $7 billion federal victim compensation fund following the 2001 terrorist attacks. He will do the same for Virginia Tech.
Families of many of the 32 people killed by student Seung-Hui Cho on April 16 have said victims’ relatives should have more control over how donated money is used.
Feinberg said he will spend several weeks meeting with the families to listen to their ideas. He said he has been directed to act quickly, and anticipates the money will be distributed “well before Thanksgiving.”
“We’re gratified that they are coming around,” said Thomas Fadoul, a lawyer representing more than 20 of the victims’ families. “It’s a shame it took all the effort the families have had to go to stimulate it.”
The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund was set up after Cho killed two people in a dormitory and 30 in a classroom building as well as himself.
The fund will be closed to donations Aug. 1. After that date, donations will go to a general student scholarship fund that could be used for others involved in the shootings.
About $1 million was donated for specific purposes. Steger said the university wants to find the best way to use the rest to benefit the families of those killed and the injured students and faculty.
University officials announced last month a plan to designate $3.2 million in the fund for $100,000 endowed scholarships to honor each of the victims.
Steger said Thursday the money would not go into a scholarship unless a family wants it to. “We now realize that we are not in a position to presuppose what is best for victims or their families,” Steger said.
Virginia Tech has said it plans to use some of the donations for such things as undergraduate education expenses for children of deceased faculty and financial counseling and mental health services for victims’ families.
So far, the school has spent $400,000 from the fund or more for travel, hotel bills and other needs of the families, Steger said.
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