By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 6, 2007
Virginia Tech officials announced yesterday that a D.C. lawyer who headed the government fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will manage the millions of dollars in donations that have been pouring in to the university since the April shooting massacre.
Kenneth R. Feinberg, one of the nation's top mediators, will work for free to administer the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which has about $7 million. People from around the world have sent donations to the Blacksburg university since student Seung Hui Cho, 23, killed 32 students and faculty members, then himself.
Feinberg said he will first meet with survivors and the families of those killed. He said the money could go toward compensation for families and victims, scholarships, medical expenses or such university programs as athletics or the arts.
"My immediate task in the next few weeks is to meet with as many families and victims who want to meet with me to get their input on how the money should be spent," Feinberg said. "This is an assignment better suited to a priest or a rabbi than a lawyer, but I'll do the best I can."
Feinberg, 61, of Bethesda, was special master of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, which distributed more than $7 billion in government funds to family members and survivors. Over 33 months, he developed rules for distributing the money and met with victims' relatives.
Some relatives of the Virginia Tech victims have expressed concern about the investigation and the university's response. Some have said they do not have a big enough role in the work of a panel appointed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) to investigate the attack. Thomas J. Fadoul Jr., an attorney for relatives of 22 victims, said he and Kaine's office are resolving the conflict.
University officials said they think having an outside administrator handle the fund will benefit the families.
"We now realize that we are not in a position to pre-suppose what is best for victims or their families," Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger said in a statement. "With no experience in dealing with crime victims, we felt it best to seek expert advice in disbursements of these monies."
Fadoul, of Vienna, said some family members he represents are concerned they were not consulted about the fund sooner, but they want to be involved in the process. "We're grateful we're finally being recognized and our points of view are being taken into consideration," he said.
University spokesman Larry Hincker said more than 20,000 donations came in after the shootings. He recalled a $5 bill sent with a letter from an elementary school student in Colorado and a $1 million donation from the New York Yankees.
Hincker said that at the request of donors, about $1 million has been designated for a general scholarship fund and scholarships, endowments and other educational uses in the names of each of those slain.
The university used about $100,000 in donations after the attack to pay for funerals and memorials, travel funds and other expenses.
The memorial fund will stop accepting donations Aug. 1. Feinberg said he expects to recommend a plan by mid-September for distributing the money and to have it disbursed in the fall.
"Money is a very poor substitute for loss," Feinberg said. "I hope this will bring some very small measure of relief to people in grief."