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NIU father pushes for national victim fund

DeKALB – Eric Mace finally feels like he can fight.

After losing his daughter, Ryanne, five years ago in the fatal shooting at Northern Illinois University’s Cole Hall, Mace said it felt like someone had beat him down before he ever knew he was in a fight.

Left with angry energy, Mace said he resisted the temptation to focus that energy on negatives and now is ready to focus it on helping the countless families victimized by similar tragedies.

Mace and a group of 64 families affected by the tragedies at NIU, Sandy Hook, Columbine, the World Trade Center and many others have come together to ask the federal government to establish a National Compassion Fund that would guarantee money donated to victims goes to the victims.

“Fundraising happens almost immediately after these tragedies, and you realize later things happen out of your control,” Mace said.

While Mace said he does not believe any financial misdirection occurred in the NIU tragedy, he knows victims of Sandy Hook, the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting and 9/11 never received hundreds of millions donated for them.

Caryn Kaufman, spokeswoman for the national group, said in many cases nonprofit organizations, such as, United Way keep some of the money to pay for administrative costs. The rest of the money can go toward grants, memorials and other larger community needs but not a select group of individuals because of federal guidelines, she said.

“If they want to build a memorial, that’s a beautiful thing and there is nothing wrong with giving your money to that,” Kaufman said. “What shouldn’t happen is you give your money thinking it’s going to victims and it ends up with a nonprofit who can’t do that.”

The group’s proposal would set up a mechanism so when a national tragedy strikes people can donate to a fund that would distribute money directly to victims. The fund would be supervised by the federal government and act as a 501c3 in that donations would be tax deductible and money received by victims would be counted as a gift and not income.

She said the group created a template as to how the money could be distributed based on if someone lost an immediate family member, was hospitalized for multiple days or was a first responder, but those details could be discussed further.

“This is all meant to be a starting point for a discussion,” Kaufman said. “There is a way to do this better. There is a way to do this smarter.”

Joe Dubowski, who also lost his daughter, Gayle, in the NIU shooting, said the proposed fund would be a victory for victims and donors.

He said when tragedy strikes, the public wants to help as quickly as possible and makes donations in good faith. Meanwhile, victims are unprepared for the wave of emotions, responsibilities and activity that follows.

“You want to make sure you are protecting the people who are giving from getting taken advantage of and you want to keep people from profitting from the misfortune of others,” Dubowski said.

Mace said it is impossible to know what the victims of Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colo., are going through because of scrutiny and campaigning around both situations. But he said he knows those families were taken advantage of and should not have to fight for what people selflessly gave to them.

Instead, Mace will fight for them.

“It’s time to walk the walk with the talk I’ve always had,” Mace said. “This is a very exclusive club that no one wants to join, but we take care of our own. There was a lot of outpouring and support for me, and there is no reason I shouldn’t do that for someone else.”

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