Friday, August 5, 2016

DCJ Closes Out 4-Year Long Theater Shooting Victim Assistance Project

More than four years after an unthinkable tragedy struck in Aurora, members of the Office for Victims Programs within the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) are wrapping up the final details of a massive, multi-agency project that aimed to provide a breadth of services to help the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting.

Immediately following the July 20, 2012, Aurora Theater shooting tragedy, the Office for Victims Programs within the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) sprang into action. Less than 16 hours after the shooting, Victims Unit Manager Nancy Feldman (now retired) and State Victim Compensation Administrator Tony Tilger were invited by the Aurora Police Department to participate in a briefing/request for assistance for victim advocates from around the State. Then-Executive Director Jim Davis and Division Director Jeanne Smith offered the victims and affected agencies any support that was needed from CDPS. That support came in the form of coordinating and administering a Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP) grant.
Tilger and the OVP were honored at the 2013 Public Service
Recognition week for their work supporting the Aurora
Theater Victims. Little did they know they would be
working on the project for several more years.

Tilger drafted and submitted the grant application on behalf of eight Colorado agencies. Having successfully secured the grant, Tilger and Financial Specialist Stephanie Piechowski have been working with the grant ever since. Their work has included tracking proposed uses for the funds as well as reporting out on outcomes achieved by the various agencies that received funding through the grant.

The grant funded a variety of victim services and assistance, such as:

  • District Attorney’s Office personnel who provided services to victims throughout the criminal justice process 
  • Travel monies for victims to attend criminal proceedings 
  • Technology solutions that enabled the DA’s Office to provide instantaneous communication with victims 
  • Personnel at the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) who provided targeted services to relatives of deceased victims and the more seriously injured victims 
  • Victim security services provided by Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office deputies (presence at the shuttle location, escorting victims to their vehicles, and providing a secure viewing area) 
  • Deployment of therapists from the Aurora Mental Health Center to support victims immediately after the tragedy and during trial 
  • Security for the numerous vigils and events, including a Presidential visit, following the tragedy 
  • Counseling for first responders who witnessed the theater shooting aftermath 
  • A Closed-circuit television system for the courthouse so victims could view the criminal proceedings from a secure location outside the courthouse 
  • Shuttle services and child care for victims wanting to attend criminal proceedings 
  • A Mass Violence Tool-kit for Prosecutors developed by the DA’s Office 
Tilger and the CDPS Office for Victim Programs were honored for their efforts at the 2013 Public Service Recognition Week, but their work was far from over.

Four years and six days after the event, the Office for Victims filed its next-to-last Semi-Annual report for the shooting. With all anticipated expenditures closed out for the program, Tilger expects to finally wrap up the grant project with a final report (reporting no new expenses) at the end of this year.

"I sincerely want to thank you and all who assisted with this effort.  I’m certain your thoughtful, compassionate, and effective response mitigated victims’ trauma," wrote a representative from the Federal Office for Victims of Crime upon receiving the most recent report. She noted that several of the products that came out of the grant will be shared as models to serve as tools for other communities facing the terrible tragedy of mass violence.

Reflecting back on the impact of such a large-scale, multi-agency project Tilger said that it was the “small things” that made the long-term effort so worthwhile and rewarding. “Spending four years supporting a project like this is all worth it when you remember the many small gestures that touched their lives - like knowing victims were being protected from the ‘Holmies’ (a group devoted to James Holmes) by being walked to their cars by deputies, and that they didn’t have to worry about whether or not they could afford to travel to watch the trial,” Tilger said. He added: “The AEAP grant recipients did amazing work and truly saved lives – we just put some words together to make part of that possible.”

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