Fund raises $1 million-plus for victims, families of mass shooting

Seven people were killed and 25 injured in the incident. The shooter, Seth Ator, 36, was killed by law enforcement outside the Cinergy movie theater off State Highway 191 between Odessa and Midland.

Odessa Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Renee Earls said some wonderful things have come out the tragedy. “Today, we want to focus on the dollars that have been donated for the families of the deceased and the victims who have been hospitalized,” Earls said.

The Odessa Community Foundation is the 501(c)(3) arm of the chamber of commerce. It is overseen by the board of directors and used for special events specific to Odessa. It has been in existence since 1989, Earls said.

“We did the Chris Kyle memorial. That is one example of how those dollars are utilized. The day of Aug. 31, Mara Barham was the chairman of our board of directors at the time and she received a phone call from a former chairman of the board. That was Kirk Edwards and they started talking about how we have the Odessa Community Foundation. We need to start putting something out so that we can receive dollars for those affected. So as of that evening, about 9 o’clock, we had it on our website. We want to thank CVA Advertising for working quickly into the night to get that going,” Earls said.

After that, a task force was appointed.

“We have five members of that. Mara Barham, and she serves as chairman of that task force. Dan Hollmann is a local attorney, so he’s giving us our legal advice. Gus Ortega is the chairman of our board. Now David Duree is a local accountant and he’s obviously helping us in that arena. Then of course Kirk Edwards who started all the conversation pertaining to this,” Earls said.

That was on Labor Day weekend.

“Immediately we started getting donations via PayPal into that fund. Come Tuesday when we opened for business, one of our very first phone calls was from Starbucks corporate who said we need to know how we can donate and then people literally started coming into the chamber with money in their hand — cash. Six, seven, eight thousand dollars. We had four different tattoo parlors that had come in and did 48 hours of tattoos with over $20,000 that was given to this fund,” Earls said.

Barham said no amount of words or dollars will alleviate their grief or even “salve their comfort, but we continue to share with them in their mourning and in their grief.”

“Like others have said here, out of evil comes goodness. To see the community that I have grown to love come together, to do in whatever small way that they could whether that was donating to the Odessa Community Foundation, whether it was through bake sales, whether it was tattoo parlors, whether it was children raising coins, it was so heartwarming to know that as a community we will rally and wrap our arms around those that we love,” Barham said.

She added that a significant portion of the victims were not from Odessa, but that didn’t stop the community, along with Midland, from “loving those individuals and we will continue to support those individuals in whatever capacity that we can.”

Earls said 100 percent of the foundation funds are going to the families. She said there are some administrative costs, but the chamber is covering those.

“We want to make sure that every single dollar that is received goes out to those who it was … intended for,” she said.

Stacey Brown, president of Odessa Regional Medical Center, said she was proud to announce that the hospital will be waiving the patient portion of the bills of victims who were brought to the hospital.

“We had six patients who came to Odessa Regional and their out-of- pocket expenses would be around $90,000, so that coupled with our $20,000 donation that we gave to the Community Foundation brings our support for this … to $110,000. We’re super proud to be part of that. That is obviously the right thing to do for our community,” Brown said.

Russell Tippin, president and CEO of Medical Center Hospital, said the hospital board decided to cover the bills of patients brought to their hospital, as well.

“When we first started kicking around this idea, the board of directors of Medical Center really took no time at all to make a very good decision,” Tippin said. “That decision was to make sure that none of the victims that came to us that day had any responsibility after their insurance and any form of third party could cover.”

Fourteen patients were taken to MCH that day and Tippin said he expects the cost would exceed $500,000.

Officials also said Midland Memorial Hospital was waiving the cost of care for the patients it took care of after the shooting.

“We just want to make sure that we could be a partner, just like our other partners in town. It was the right thing to do and it just goes to prove that good can come from evil and that in this time we take care of each other. I flash back to that day when it first happened and I was walking across the street to speak to the media at the corner of Fifth and Washington. The only thing that sticks out in my mind are these people that were … almost like they were coming out of the ground. They were just walking up to the hospital carrying blankets, Chick-fil-A sandwiches, money. There was a group there to donate blood. These people who had no idea who the victims were, but knew that they needed help and Medical Center Health System is very proud to be part of that, as well. We appreciate the board of directors and their leadership in this and I thank them for stepping up and getting this done …,” Tippin said.

City Manager Michael Marrero announced that transportation costs to hospitals and emergency services will be covered.

Because a lot of the bills are being taken care of, Earls said the funds from the foundation will basically be a gift to the recipient and they can choose what to do with the funds.

Asked about the disparity in amounts raised through Go Fund Me pages, for example, Earls said they are not taking that into consideration.

“We aren’t looking at what any other person’s situation is. What we’ll do is they’ll look at a benefit for the deceased and then a formula for those who were hospitalized,” Earls said.

Barham said they are going to get the funds into the hands of the families and victims.

“So tentatively, we’ll be looking to the middle of January and at that point we will go ahead and disperse all of the funds that have come in,” she said.

The criteria will be approved in early December. Barham said they got advice from El Paso, which experienced a mass shooting just weeks before the one in Odessa.

“They had significantly more victims than we did. They have a significant international piece to theirs. Our hope is to keep it somewhat simple. First, and foremost our No. 1 criteria is to get these funds to the victims and their families and so we will keep it as simple as we can within the context of what we’ve been given to do,” Barham said.

“There will be some criteria and we will try to be as objective about it as we can to be fair based on days in hospital, number of inpatient rehab days, outpatient rehab days. We will be funding the disbursements directly to the victims and/or their estates,” she added.

Barham said their hope is that all of the families of the deceased will receive the same amount.

“We have done an initial disbursement. All of the deceased’s families have been given a $10,000 lump sum. The victims have all been given a lump sum of $5,000, so even though everybody won’t be receiving the same dollar amount as those that were injured, it will all be calculated on the same formula. We will not be including any outside sources that they may or may not have been privy to,” Barham said.

She said she is aware of the large Go Fund Me accounts.

“But outside of that, there (were) some significant donations made to other victims directly that we aren’t necessarily privy to or aware of, and so the best thing that we can do is apply the same criteria to all of the deceased and all of the victims and try to come out with the best way we can to try to be equitable,” Barham said.

Initially, Earls said they thought that if they could raise $200,000 that would be remarkable.

“… It has far exceeded our expectations and we still continue to receive money today,” Earls said. “I know it wasn’t just a financial commitment from these people on the actual weekend. We had many, many people pouring into the hospitals, to the fire department, police department. How can we help? What can we do? I know there was food everywhere and so many people stepped to the forefront to be able to help. That’s what our community does. That’s what we’re known for. Such a tragic event bought out the very, very best in people. I mentioned the Starbucks. They were the first to call. Then groups just continued to come forward,” she said.

Curbside Bistro made thousands of pancakes. Bless the Basin was organized in about 10 days and raised some $40,000. An Eagle Scout called and wanted to work on a memorial. Cards were received from all over the country. A man in Odessa who wanted to remain anonymous created crosses for all those who died. There were numerous donations from $2 to checks for $100,000 plus.

“We had companies that had employees donate and they matched those funds. We had numerous T-shirt sales, not only here in Odessa. One of the checks here, the Southlake Cheerleaders came. They sold 1,200 T-shirts and raised over $26,000,” Earls said.

John Bushman, CEO of Investment Corporation of America, donated directly to the victims. This weekend, Kent Companies announced it would donate to local law enforcement.

“It truly does show that our community has a big heart and we knew that, but now the world knows that. We’ve had the opportunity to meet in person, or speak with the victims who were hospitalized,” Earls said. “We’ve also talked to the families and the stories have truly been heartbreaking, but also heartwarming. We’ve been able to place attorneys with those who need any legal work at pro bono.”

On Tuesday, Earls said she received an email from an attorney in El Paso who will help the widow of one of the individuals from El Paso “so she will able to get that taken care of.”

“We’re so appreciative and we know that tragedy was turned into goodness. The worst brought out the best. The funeral homes, many of them stepped up. When we first started this fund, we thought we would cover funeral costs and hospitalization bills but we have seen that that’s not needed because so many people have stepped up,” Earls said.

The task force will host a town hall meeting at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 4 in the Zant Room of the Saulsbury Campus Center at Odessa College, 201 W. University Blvd.

“We want the donors, the public, the community to be able to hear what the criteria is and how we plan to give out the money. We want to hear from you,” Earls said.

 “Aug. 31 was a day that evil visited our community,” Marrero said. “… Unfortunately, we see this across the country it seems like every week and we think it will never happen here, but it did. I think you’ve heard it said over and over that out of evil came good. I think we all experienced that in our community that day because we saw this community come together as one. Not just this community, but obviously the surrounding communities, in particular Midland. We came together when we needed to.”

Marrero said he couldn’t be prouder of local law enforcement, the fire department and dispatch services.

“Those folks performed exceptionally that day. To see these men and women work together as one unit to make sure that those that were impacted were taken care of was amazing,” he said.

“As the City of Odessa, we recognize that the families that were impacted are going to be impacted not just on the day of the event but the reality is that they will be impacted for the rest of their lives. So our part, or what we’ve concluded that we want to do is we’re going to waive all the fees associated with transport to the various hospitals and emergency services,” Marrero said.

“Again we know that this event was tragic for our city, and if in some small way beyond the efforts of our first responders that we can help we thought that this might be the most effective way. The City of Odessa is committed to making sure that those families won’t bear any of the cost that was associated with the transport of those individuals to the local hospitals,” he added.