HARTFORD, Conn. — The foundation handling the largest charitable fund set up following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre said Tuesday that it will begin distributing $4 million of that money right away, responding to criticism that it was moving too slowly.
The foundation, which oversees an $11 million fund, said the preliminary disbursement will go out within the next two weeks to the families of the 26 people killed inside the school on Dec. 14, the families of 12 children who escaped classrooms where the massacre took place and the families of two people injured in the shooting.
“The reality of the approach that we have adopted is that having a dialogue with those impacted in the community requires time particularly when so many are in the midst of responding to trauma,” said Charles Herrick, a member of the foundation’s board. “The board will move as quickly as possible to bring relief to the families while also ensuring decisions are made thoughtfully for the future.”
Newtown Selectman Will Rodgers, who has been working with the foundation, said officials have been sensitive to concerns about timing.
“The thought was that without casting blame around we can just address the situation and make a quick distribution while still keeping to our more deliberative processes for the future,” he said.
“Of course what we’re afraid is that we’ll trade one set of criticisms for another. The ‘You haven’t acted fast enough’ criticism will be replaced by, ‘How can you distribute it in this way.”’
The fund to support the Newtown community was established by the United Way of Western Connecticut and Newtown Savings Bank in the wake of the Dec. 14 school shooting, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adult educators before committing suicide. In February the nonprofit Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation was created to evaluate requests and suggestions on how to use the money.
A daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal killed in the shooting, wrote on her Facebook page in February that families were being asked for proof of hardship before the smallest disbursements were issued.
“We’ve been victimized enough,” Cristina Lafferty Hassinger said in the post. “We shouldn’t have to fight for what is rightfully ours, but we won’t be taken advantage of in our darkest hour.”
The committee tasked with distributing the money to the families affected most severely by the tragedy will also consider providing some to address the needs of first responders and Sandy Hook school personnel.
Anne Ragusa, a foundation board member, said it has held three meetings and has others planned with victims’ families, survivor families, injured teachers and first responders.