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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2007 / 10 

Comments by Charles W. Steger

October 30, 2007

During the dark days after April 16, the eyes of the world were on Virginia Tech. They mourned with us. They shared our sorrow and grief. More than 30,000 people sent condolences, cards, artifacts, banners of all sizes and shapes to say, "We're with you."

Additionally and almost immediately, another outpouring took place. Spontaneously and without prodding, generous Americans, and even people outside our borders, began sending monetary contributions. At first they were small and later we received some rather sizable gifts.

I recall a handwritten note from a 10 year old in Colorado folded around a five dollar bill. …Or the two pound box of pennies and nickels totaling $5.36 from a young girl named Peyton who told her father that she wanted to give all of her money from her money jar to "Virginia where the kids died."

At the other end of the scale were schools like East Carolina University or the Atlantic Coast Conference or several corporations with magnanimous gifts in the hundreds of thousands. And then there were super gifts by George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees who felt that he needed to find a way for his team and his organization to help a grieving community.

Steinbrenner said in a statement. "…the Virginia Tech community has shown great spirit and resolve during this difficult time, and the New York Yankees are proud to join so many others in supporting the healing process."

In all, we received almost 21,000 contributions.

During the early days, we envisioned many uses for the funds, including health insurance for faculty families, undergraduate expenses for children of deceased faculty members, financial and mental health counseling, memorial scholarship funds, counseling for the campus community, funeral expenses, long term medical costs, tuition expense for selected students, funds for a memorial. And the list could go on.

Not far into the process, we determined it would require the Wisdom of Solomon to determine "fair and appropriate" uses of the monies. There was not then, nor is there now, a right way to disburse these monies. After a bumpy start, we started again from scratch. We engaged Mr. Kenneth Feinberg with his special expertise on this very difficult topic. We asked the people who were most deeply and intimately hurt and scarred by the tragedy–-those who were injured or lost loved ones.

We believe it was best to focus on their needs. They experienced extraordinary loss and emotional trauma and deserved the most support. The university community had then, and still has now, unaddressed financial needs, but we determined that we would seek other sources. For example, we have received a grant of almost a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education to fund counseling and case management. We are seeking other sources for those other needs, which run into the millions.

The university never actively solicited monies. They were given to us by concerned and empathetic alumni, friends, and wonderful strangers to help the healing process… and because they cared deeply for all of us. People have entrusted to us to do what is right and appropriate.

And that is why we now are disbursing the bulk of the monies to 79 families or individuals. Yesterday, we distributed checks totaling more than $8.5 million.

We distributed it as follows:

  • $208,000 to each of the 32 families of the deceased and varying amounts to those injured or who were within the four classrooms where the murders took place.
  • $104,000 to each of 5 individuals
  • $46,000 to each of 8 individuals
  • $11,500 or mandatory tuition and fees plus $1,500 to each of 34 individuals

Everyone who was eligible, based upon the protocols we issued on Aug. 15, applied and will be receiving disbursements.

We make these distributions wishing only the best and hoping that our families and the injured can recover from this trauma. Neither the university nor the Virginia Tech Foundation had the authority to make such disbursements. We asked for and received from Gov. Kaine a special authorization. This came in the form of Executive Order 56, which enabled the university to do this.

Recall that people also spontaneously donated monies for specific individuals. This is not uncommon. In response, we created 32 memorial funds in the names of the 32 slain victims. About $860,000 remains in designated funds.

As we said in July, we are not in a position to presuppose what is best for the families nor for those who were injured. Thus, they will determine the best uses for these contributions. Some already have decided to endow memorial scholarships here or elsewhere. Some simply have bills to pay.

We again send our most sincere condolences and deep sorrow to all the families for their loss of precious loved ones. We know that no amount of money can bring back a loved one. I wish for each and every one continuing wisdom and peace as they cope with their loss and recovery.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the very special contribution and commitment from Mr. Kenneth Feinberg during this process. As fund administrator, Ken willingly gave many, many hours of his own time and shared his special insight and judgment in developing the protocols. Having worked on this and the federal government fund to disburse 9/11 monies, he has a keen sense of the pain felt by those many victims. He met for hours to understand the needs of those who are now receiving these monies. He served us well and he served them well. He literally appeared from nowhere during a time of need for all of us and we thank him.

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