On 19 June 2015, a Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman confirmed to Reuters that the agency would “fast track the sending of $29 million to South Carolina” to the families of the victims of the 17 June 2015 Charleston church shooting. The news was reported in an article that was exceptionally brief at two sentences long:
An unspecified portion of the money, allocated under the government’s national Crime Victim Assistance Formula Grant program, can be used to provide services to the families of victims of the shootings at Emmanuel AME Church, spokesman Kevin Lewis said.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting the news initially drew little attention, but on 1 July 2015 the web site NewsMax publicized the Reuters article and built upon the scant information it provided. In the NewsMax article, titled “Obama OKs, Expedites Huge $29M Payout to Agencies Assisting Charleston Victims,” the “payout” was likened to similar funds disbursed to affected locations after mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.
NewsMax compared the dollar amount cited with prior DOJ press releases issued between seven months and a year after three separate mass casualty incidents, making it unclear whether immediate assistance had been dispatched to victims of the earlier attacks, or if the “payouts” referenced were funds earmarked for that purpose but paid out later:
The announcement regarding the Sandy Hook payout came a year after the shooting; the Aurora announcement occurred seven months after that shooting; and the Boston payout announcement came nine months after the bombing.The Reuters story announcing the Charleston payout came just two days after the shooting.
With NewsMax providing no information above and beyond the comment obtained by Reuters from the Justice Department, many social media users interpreted their article as evidence that the victims of the Charleston shooting had received preferential treatment compared to other victims of mass shooting incidents and their families: