- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A lawyer who administered September 11 claims will advise Virginia Tech on how to handle its $7 million fund to aid victims of the mass killings on campus this spring, university officials said yesterday.

Kenneth Feinberg, a D.C. lawyer, served without pay for 33 months as special master of a $7 billion federal victim-compensation fund after the terrorist attacks and will do the same for Virginia Tech.

Mr. Feinberg says he will spend several weeks meeting with families of the victims to seek their ideas on how the donations should be used.

University President Charles W. Steger said Mr. Feinberg was approached because of his experience dealing “with this kind of catastrophe.”

“We need someone with that experience to make sure we do it right,” Mr. Steger said. “As we got into it, we discovered that it is a very complicated enterprise.”

University officials announced last month a plan to designate $3.2 million from the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund for $100,000 endowed scholarships to honor each of the victims, but Mr. Steger said yesterday that the money would not go into such a fund unless a family wanted it to.

“We now realize that we are not in a position to presuppose what is best for victims or their families,” he said.

The scholarship funds have been set up, but they have only donations specifically for that use. University spokesman Larry Hincker said they contain several hundred thousand dollars.

About $1 million has been given for specific purposes, but Mr. Steger said the university wants to find the best way to use the rest to benefit the families of those killed and the injured students and faculty.

Families of many of the 32 persons killed by student Seung-hui Cho on April 16 told a panel investigating the shootings last month that victims’ relatives should have more control over how donations are used.

“We’re gratified that they are coming around,” said Thomas Fadoul, a lawyer representing more than 20 of the victims’ families. “It’s a shame it took all the effort the families have had to go to to stimulate it.”

Mr. Fadoul said no one from the university had contacted him.

Mr. Steger said the university was prompted to seek Mr. Feinberg’s help because “we felt we did not have the capability to manage the fund properly.”

“It may have been simultaneous thinking,” he said of the families’ earlier complaint.

Mr. Steger said some of the victims have financial needs. Mr. Feinberg said he had been directed to act quickly, and he anticipates that the money will be distributed “well before Thanksgiving.”

The Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, set up after Cho killed two persons in a dormitory and 30 in a classroom building as well as himself, has received donations from nearly 20,000 sources as large as the New York Yankees and as small as Little League Baseball teams.

The fund will be closed to donations Aug. 1, a deadline Mr. Feinberg said was important in order to give families an idea of how much money they are dealing with.

Donations after that date will go to a general student scholarship fund that could be used for others involved in the shootings.

Virginia Tech has said it planned to use some of the donations for such things as undergraduate education expenses for children of deceased faculty and financial counseling and mental-health services for victims’ families.

It also intends to help pay tuition and fees for injured students through spring semester 2008 and for some of their medical costs.

The fund also will pay for several full-time family advocates to work with the victims’ families to make sure they receive proper services in a timely manner.

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