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Emanuel A.M.E. Church Faces Criticism for Improperly Divvying Up Donations to Family of Victims

Parishioners and community supporters at the reopening of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, S.C. following the mass shooting that killed 9 people on June 17. 2015. Photo by Stephen B. of Morton/AP

Parishioners and community supporters at the reopening of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, S.C. following the mass shooting that killed 9 people on June 17, 2015. Photo by Stephen B. of Morton/AP

On June 17, 2015, self-professed racist Dylann Roof entered the church of Mother Emanuel A.M.E in Charleston, South Carolina and opened fire on parishioners who were there for Bible study. He took the lives of nine people that day. Following the massacre, donors from all around the world opened their wallets to help this grieving church and community in their time of need.

The Post and Courier reports that Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, which doesn’t include money donated through Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, will distribute $600,000 in a second wave of donations to the nine victims’ families and survivors of the church shooting. The Hope Fund doled out $2.5 million the first time around after receiving a total of $2.8 million in donations. The other $300,000 went toward the funerals and burials of the victims, according to the Post and Courier.

The formula of division used for the first round of donations was also utilized for the second. Per the Post and Courier, 55 percent of the funds will be divided equally among the murdered victims’ inheritors, 25 percent split among the survivors, 10 percent will go to the children of the victims, 5 percent allotted for education expenses, and another 5 percent set aside in a “special needs” account.

Not everyone is pleased about how the donations were divvyed up, however. Arthur Hurd, the husband of slain parishioner Cynthia Hurd, questioned the amount of money he received for his wife’s death, Eurweb reports. He later sued Mother Emanuel A.M.E. accusing the church of being overly secretive about the disbursement of donations. Per Eurweb, the lawsuit was ultimately dropped after the church handed over documents to Hurd’s lawyers.

The news site also reports that Hurd only received a check for $50,000 with no explanation of how the money was divided.

“I feel like it says, ‘Take this and shut up,’ ” Hurd said.

The whereabouts of some donations are uncertain as well, the Post and Courier reports. According to Laura Evans, a private lawyer who put together a group of pro bono lawyers to help handle donations to the Hope Fund, the church has yet to transfer $80,000 in donations that were originally designated for the Hope Fund.

“[The church] holds funds originally intended to go to the Hope Fund but which have never been sent over to us,” Evans said.

Per the Post and Courier, there was some confusion concerning accounts set up to receive donations, as both the church and the city of Charleston accepted money on behalf of the victims’ families.

Attorney for Mother Emanuel A.M.E Wilbur Johnson said that church staff placed donations for the Hope Fund into its “Moving Forward Campaign,” and said the money cannot be moved because a judge has already placed a hold on it.

“Our hope is to get that matter resolved and get the funds transferred for the benefit of the victims’ families and the survivors,” Johnson said.

According to a statement released by Mother Emanuel A.M.E., the church will retain about $1.9 million of the remaining money.

“As noted in past releases, the majority of the funds were made to the church itself,” the release stated. “Notably, the church has decided to contribute a significant portion of the funds received that were designated for the church.”

Reports from the Post and Courier also say the church created four funding categories that the $3.4 million in donations will go toward, which include the Mother Emanuel Fund, to be used for building improvements; a Memorial Fund, which will finance a physical tribute to the victims and their families; the Mother Emanuel/Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney Endowment Fund, which will provide money for scholarships and community outreach projects; and the Mother Emanuel Nine Fund, which will divide the $280,000 among the estates of the nine victims.

Evans told the Post and Courier that she and city were unaware that the church intended to send $1.5 million, instead of the original $80,000, to the Hope Fund and says it will not accept the money until the church provides some answers about it.

“We haven’t been involved with that at all and feel uncomfortable taking that money when the survivors and families have grave concerns with how it was handled,” Evans said.

A final distribution of the donations to the victims’ families was held in April.

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