Charleston divvying up second wave of donations to Emanuel AME families

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The city of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Hope Fund is disbursing a second wave of donations to the relatives of nine people killed by a gunman last summer and the five people who survived the shooting. (Photo credit by The Post and Courier FILE/STAFF)

By Jennifer Berry Hawes, The Post and Courier

The city of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Hope Fund is disbursing $600,000 in a second wave of donations to the nine victims’ families and five survivors of the Emanuel AME Church shooting last summer.

More than 6,500 donors from across the globe opened their hearts and wallets to help those impacted when a self-proclaimed racist gunman opened fire during the church’s Bible study on June 17. Donations continued to arrive even after the city gave out the first wave of $2.5 million in September.

The second round is being divvied up using the same formula as the first: 55 percent divided equally among the slain victims’ beneficiaries, 25 percent split among shooting survivors, 10 percent given to children of those killed, 5 percent given to education expenses and 5 percent set aside in a “special needs” account.

However, some donations are in limbo. The church has not transferred $80,000 in donations it received that were designated for the Hope Fund, said Laura Evans, a private lawyer who has coordinated a group of pro bono attorneys helping to handle the Hope Fund donations.

“(The church) holds funds originally intended to go to the Hope Fund but which have never been sent over to us,” Evans said.

After the shooting, there was confusion over several funds set up to receive donations. The city and the church both accepted them on behalf of the victims’ families.

Church attorney Wilbur Johnson said Emanuel AME staff placed donations designated for the Hope Fund into its “Moving Forward Campaign,” which cannot be moved after a judge placed a hold on it. That consent order came after a shooting victim’s husband sued the church seeking an accounting of the donations.

Arthur Hurd, whose wife Cynthia was killed in the shooting, said that he saw three women sitting at a table outside of interim pastor Norvel Goff’s office opening huge volumes of incoming mail, including letters addressed to the victims’ families. Hurd said he saw them open envelopes and remove cash and checks.

Other victims’ relatives have said they received mail from the church addressed to them that had been opened.

Hurd’s attorney, Mullins McLeod Jr., then sued the church on behalf of Cynthia Hurd’s estate to keep the money from being spent until the families’ attorneys could account for it. That is ongoing.

“Our hope is to get that matter resolved and get the funds transferred for the benefit of the victims’ families and the survivors,” Johnson said.

In late November, the church released a statement saying it had received $3.4 million total in donations since the shooting. Of that, donors designated $280,000 specifically for the nine victims’ families. Most of the rest was given to the church itself, the release said.

That amount “is still up for debate,” Evans said.

In its statement, the church said it will transfer $1.5 million to the Hope Fund including:

$280,000 donors sent the church but designated for the victims’ families.

$80,000 sent to the church but designated for the Hope Fund.

$1.1 million the church will donate to the estates of the victims and survivors.

“The church decided to make a significant donation of its own,” Johnson said.

Emanuel AME will keep the remaining $1.9 million for a variety of uses, including building improvements, a memorial to the victims, scholarships and outreach.

The city, however, didn’t know the church planned to send that money to the Hope Fund. Evans said the city won’t accept the money until questions about it are answered.

“We haven’t been involved with that at all and feel uncomfortable taking that money when the survivors and families have grave concerns with how it was handled,” Evans said.

The Hope Fund donation website closed Dec. 31, although the city accepted several larger corporate donations after that. The city will hold a final distribution in April.

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