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Texas church questioned over donations after shooting

April 13, 2018

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — Donors, survivors and victims’ families are questioning how a South Texas church is spending millions of dollars of donations made since a gunman killed more than two dozen worshippers in November.

Demand for more information grew after the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio, announced plans for a new $3 million sanctuary last month.

Church leaders have said they’re working to distribute the thousands of donations from around the world. They insist they aren’t using victim’s relief funds to pay for the new church.

“This has gotten way out of hand — way out of hand,” said Lisa McNulty, 54, whose daughter was among those killed by gunman Devin P. Kelley on Nov. 5, 2017. McNulty said she hasn’t received donations made to the church for her family.

“There’s some greed going on, and it’s wrong,” she said.

First Baptist is paying for certain victims’ expenses with proof of need. But some victims have said that they wish the process for applying for the funds was easier to navigate.

Teacher Kati Wall lost her parents in the shooting. She said First Baptist temporarily covered the salary she lost when she took a leave from work, but it took months to contact the church. She also had to prove she couldn’t get the money elsewhere, she said.

“The process is the thing that really bothers me,” Wall said. “What if you need help right now?”

Mike Ritch raised nearly $100,000 for victims, but has since cut ties with the church. He’s asking for more transparency about where the money is going.

“I won’t be doing anything to help this church in the future,” said Ritch. “Not after the way I’ve seen their leadership treat others from the community.”

It’s unclear how much First Baptist has received in the six months since the massacre, but a Dallas Morning News analysis confirmed more than $3 million from online funds and individual and corporate donors. The total doesn’t include the church’s victims fund, money raised by supermarket chain H-E-B and possibly dozens of private relief accounts.

The church declined to report fundraising totals because its restoration committee hasn’t counted it all yet, according to Pat Dziuk, head of the committee.

First Baptist also won’t have to disclose details of the funds to the IRS, according to tax experts.

“There are going to be some people who are not going to be satisfied no matter what,” said Dziuk. “God bless them. I know they’re hurting and I’m sorry, but we’re not going to make everyone happy.”

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