By Dean Vaglia
Leader Staff Writer
The National Compassion Fund (NCF), the organization managing the Oxford High School Survivors Fund, held a town hall in Oxford to take input in the fund’s policies.
Held at the OHS auditorium on the evening of Monday, March 21, the fund steering committee and Jeff Dion, NCF executive director, took public opinion on the fund’s draft protocol. The draft protocol determines who receives, as well as explaining the application process for eligible claims.
With the fund having a finite amount of money to work with — Dion said the current goal was to hit $2 million by the time donations close on May 20 — the committee limited the funds to the exact scene of the shooting, primarily the 200 Hall and several rooms. Families of the dead, people shot and those with mental trauma from being in the shooting area are currently eligible for gifts from the fund.
“One of our concerns is if we do not have enough money and we have too wide of an eligibility, we could have someone go through the process, complete all their paperwork, we validate them and then at the end of the day and have to tell them ‘Your share of this gift $67.50,’” Dion said. “My concern is that this would add insult to injury. I can see someone saying ‘I went through hell, I thought I was going to die, and they think it’s worth $67.50?’”
Once Dion finished, the room was turned over to attendees who wanted to speak. People in the auditorium spoke first, followed by Zoom attendees.
Joe Ferarri spoke first about his son’s experience. He was one of the first students out of the school and has since been unwilling to go back to school. His trauma is also having physical effects, including possible kidney issues.
A woman identifying herself as Jennifer, who said she has a student at OHS, followed Ferrari. Jennifer asked the committee to expand its eligibility to all the students in the building. Many of the people who spoke asked for eligibility to be expanded in the final protocol. But one caller, OHS junior Lilah — the only student to speak at the event — pushed back against this frequent request.
“I was outside of Room 221, which is about halfway down the 200 Hall, and I would do anything to not to be a part of this fund,” Lilah said. “I am sure that people who were on the other side of the school experienced trauma as well, but they were never really in danger because [the shooter] never went on the other side of the school. And I am sure that they were very scared but they were never in danger in reality … It is really hurtful to hear people saying stuff like this because I ran for my life. Everyone in the school is a victim, but these are days that I will never forget.”
Some speakers took time to share their stories, like Zoom caller Nora. A working single mother from Pontiac with an OHS freshman with Autism and another child in the Oxford Community Schools system, Nora shared the hardships she faced on the day of the shooting and the following months. The distance between Pontiac and OHS added to the stress of Nov. 30, and many of the relief services that sprung up in the wake of the shooting were inaccessible to her due to having to work during the day.
“Not everyone was able to go to the counseling sessions at school or not able to afford counseling,” Nora said.
The steering committee will meet on Friday to discuss changes to the draft protocol based on the town hall and public comments gathered before March 22.
By Dean Vaglia