ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – The administrator of a $23 million fund of donations for survivors and family members of the shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando that left 49 patrons dead warned Thursday that squabbling over estate questions could be the biggest obstacle to distributing the money.
Ken Feinberg told about 300 family members and survivors at two town hall meetings that family members, domestic partners and spouses of patrons who died need to agree on who will represent a victim's estate, and he encouraged them to use probate court in Orlando to make that designation.
Feinberg, who has represented similar funds for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Boston Marathon bombing, acknowledged that such a decision may be complicated by same-sex domestic partners having competing interests with family members of victims. The June 12 massacre was the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
"We aren't going to get into family arguments about the distribution of money. Work it out," Feinberg said. "We can't get in the middle of this."
The exact amount each family will get is to be determined by how much is raised by the end of September. The most money will go to the families who lost loved ones, Feinberg said.
Other difficulties may come from the large number of deceased victims who have relatives outside the U.S. mainland, he said. About half of 49 patrons who were killed had ties to Puerto Rico, and others came from Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
"We're trying to be sensitive to all the difference circumstances around these cases," said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, which is assisting in the distribution of the money.
Some survivors and family members said they were worried that they would have to reimburse a state fund that provides crime victims money for lost wages, medical bills and funeral expenses. But Jeffrey Dion, an official with the National Center for Victims of Crime, said administrators of the OneOrlando Fund were seeking a formal answer from the Florida attorney general's office about whether reimbursement would be required.
"The basis for what we are compensating is for the horrible experience," he said. "We don't pay people on their medical bills and lost wages."
Wilmariel Lozano said she is the mother of a 5-year-old boy whose father, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano, was killed, and she asked what she should do. Feinberg told her to go to probate court and she could be designated the representative of the child.
Under a proposal yet to be finalized, there will be four classes for distributing the funds: families of deceased victims; people hospitalized for more than one night; people injured but not needing overnight hospitalization; and patrons who were in the club when the shooting started but were not hurt. Those hospitalized more than one night will be categorized based on the number of nights they spent at a hospital.
Those who received medical treatment must attach a letter from the hospital stating how long they were hospitalized. Victims who received outpatient treatment will be eligible only if they got treatment within 24 hours of the shooting. Those who escaped unhurt will have their claim verified through law enforcement records, Feinberg said.
Calvin McNeil said he was at Pulse but didn't get medical treatment until more than 24 hours after the shooting. Feinberg told him he would still eligible to receive compensation.
Joe Saunders, a representative from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group, told Feinberg he worried some patrons who escaped may not have talked to law enforcement. But Feinberg told him there has to be some way to verify a claim because, otherwise, "we'd get 5,000 names." Orlando Police have said as many as 320 patrons were in the club when the massacre began.
"There has to be some requirement to limit the number of people eligible," Feinberg said.
Ivory Mcneal, who was trapped inside Pulse for a half hour, hiding behind a palm tree on the patio, agreed law enforcement verification was the best way to determine who is eligible.
"Like all these people who are like, 'Oh, the police didn't get my information.' I was there that night. They pretty much kept us all together and we could not leave," McNeil said. "I don't know what all these people are saying they didn't speak to the police."
All of the money will go to survivors and family members of those who died since the administrators are donating their time, Feinberg said. Applicants have until Sept. 12 to submit a claim, and payments will start two weeks later.