OAK CREEK, Wisconsin (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations poured in from around the world after the deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in the U.S. last month. Now temple officials are treading carefully as they figure out how to distribute the money.
Aware of arguments that flared among victims' families after previous mass shootings in the U.S., Sikh leaders are relying on an outside expert to figure out the fairest way to share the funds.
"You never really know what will happen when there's money involved, but we're doing our best to safeguard against any problems," said Amardeep Kaleka, whose father was among those killed. "The community has already suffered. If there's any infighting, there will only be more suffering."
The collections are expected to total between $500,000 and $600,000. The outpouring followed a rampage in which a man with ties to white supremacy groups killed six worshippers and wounded two before killing himself. His motive may never be known.
Those killed ranged in age from a 41-year-old mother of two who was her family's primary breadwinner to an 84-year-old man who retired long ago. One of the wounded didn't have health insurance and has been hospitalized in critical condition for a month.
"No one wants to be callous, but there are finite resources," said Kaleka. "Some hard decisions will have to be made."
Last week, relatives of some of the Colorado theater shooting victims lashed out because fundraisers who collected more than $5 million had so far given no more than $5,000 to each family.
In this case, the worshippers know each other. It's not yet clear whether that will avert disagreements.
Temple officials turned to lawyer Ken Feinberg, a victims' attorney and claims expert who directed victims' payments after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Gulf Coast oil spill in 2010 and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
Feinberg told The Associated Press he recommends the temple act swiftly, saying the families need money now and won't benefit from a long delay. He also recommended giving the families of the dead equal amounts, even if one victim was 84 and another was 41.
"You would treat everyone exactly the same. All lives would be equal," Feinberg said. "That's the only way to avoid the fairness argument. If anyone's unhappy, there's an outlet for anyone who wants to litigate."
Jasjit Singh, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, acknowledged Feinberg's advice might not sit well with some people, but said the alternative — trying to determine how much more one life is worth than another — is also difficult.
"You're in a tough spot either which way. It's very murky territory," he said.
Despite Feinberg's suggestion that the donations be distributed quickly, temple leader Kulwant Singh Dhaliwal said the board of trustees plans to proceed deliberately. He said he expects the process to take weeks, if not months.
At least one victim plans not to seek any compensation.
Belhair Dulai said his wife was injured when a bullet caused a piece of granite countertop to ricochet and lodge in her foot. Despite her pain, he said, she felt the same as other community members felt: The money should be reserved for those families who suffered real loss.
"She doesn't care about the money. There are a lot more important things than that," he said. "What they decide, it doesn't matter. There are other people in the community that need more attention."
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.