Victims of the November 2017 mass shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas have begun to question church leaders about the distribution of donated funds.
Residents of the small community about 20 miles east of San Antonio drew strength from one another after 26 people were gunned down during a church service on Nov. 5. Now arguments about money earmarked for the rebuilding of the church and to assist victims and their families threatens to tear the town of about 600 apart.
According to the Dallas Morning News, more than $3 million has been raised through more than 30 funds set up for donations to Sutherland Springs victims. Funds to rebuild the church, which has been turned into a memorial to those killed, amounted to more than $1.1 million.
Plans for a new $3 million sanctuary were unveiled in March, after which two major donors severed ties with the First Baptist Church, the Morning News reported.
But it’s not just differences in vision for the rebuild that is causing tension. Victims and their families, such as Lisa McNulty, who lost her daughter Tara in the mass shooting, say they are not getting answers or prompt payment from church leaders when they ask for funds that were meant for victim assistance.
“We just want to know how much, give us the amount, and then we want to know how much is left,” McNulty told the San Antonio Express News. “It’s simple, simple math. And all you get is a runaround.”
McNulty is now the sole caregiver for her two grandchildren also wounded in the attack.
On Nov. 5, Devin P. Kelley opened fire on the church with an assault-style rifle during Sunday services at First Baptist Church, killing 26 and wounding 20 more. He was shot by a member of the community chased him away from the scene and then killed himself.
The Express News also reported that McNulty provided evidence of a check that was sent to the church for her but has not been transferred to her yet.
“There’s some greed going on, and it’s wrong,” she told The Associated Press.
Some have asked why the church can’t simply divide the funds donated to victim funds evenly among victims’ families. The church is paying for certain victims’ expenses after those victims show proof of need.
The process for applying for those funds has only just been formalized, though, Pat Dziuk, the head of the Sutherland Springs Restoration Committee, told the Express News. The church released an open letter to members of the community and a fact sheet detailing how funds are being handled Thursday.
“The committee has been deliberate and prayerful, and has coordinated with other groups offering support, to respond to needs and exercise good stewardship and honor the intent of various donors,” the open letter reads. “Donations received for victims needs are kept in accounts separate from church operating funds and will only be used for that purpose.”
Dziuk also told the newspaper that the IRS requires the church use a needs-based system for allotting funds. Sherri Pomeroy, wife of Pastor Frank Pomeroy, wrote in a Facebook post on April 5 that “emotions are running high” in the town, and defended the church’s dispersal of funds in her account of losing her 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle.
“Many of the survivors will have lifelong expenses related to or caused by the tragedy,” Pomeroy wrote. How does one put a dollar figure and ‘split equally’ money between apples and oranges. Take us for example. We lost Belle. While yes it was tragic and unfair and devastating, my financial loss does not compare to someone who lost their breadwinner, or someone who is permanently disabled.”
Meanwhile, funding for the new church had come from two separate buckets: the North American Mission Board, and a GoFundMe account established by Brandon Beldon, who owns a roofing company, Beldon Enterprises Inc.
When Beldon was told that the nearly $220,000 in cash he raised would go toward the second phase of the rebuild — to be set aside for two years, basically — he shut down the GoFundMe campaign, the Express News reported, citing “a lot of secrecy” on the part of church officials.