Editorial: Sodini’s Pitt donation

By Editorial

Before killing himself, George Sodini opened fire on an LA Fitness aerobics group, brutally… Before killing himself, George Sodini opened fire on an LA Fitness aerobics group, brutally murdering three, wounding nine and mentally scarring countless others. In his will, though, Sodini donated his entire estate to his alma mater, Pitt — and valued at $225,000, it is no trifling sum.

So what do you do when a killer hands you almost a quarter-million dollars? If you’re Pitt, you say, “No, thanks.”

Pitt has rejected the donation — a better response than “It’s a recession, and we’ll take what we can get.” While it would be reprehensible to take the money and run, Pitt’s acceptance of the funds could ensure the money makes its way to the proper recipients: the wounded survivors and families of the slain.

The University should accept Sodini’s estate and immediately redistribute its value to his victims.

Such an action would save survivors the complications of court battles, and it would still allow Pitt to avoid disreputably keeping the donation.

In an official statement, Pitt Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Robert Hill said, “Pitt has no interest in receiving any such distribution.” Hill also said that Pitt believes “any available funds should benefit Mr. Sodini’s victims and their families.”

Hill rightly identifies those who deserve the money, but by rejecting the donation, Pitt is missing an opportunity to definitively deliver it to them. In his statement, Hill also said, “We at Pitt will do what we can to assist [the victims and their families] in receiving any funds that have been bequeathed to Pitt.” That might mean Pitt intends to receive and transfer the donation to Sodini’s victims, but the statement is too ambiguous. The University should explicitly pledge to do so.

Currently, the estate is being held until the outcome of a civil lawsuit brought by surviving victims. Hopefully the courts give them their due, even though it cannot compensate for their losses. But if Pitt can assist them in receipt of the funds, bypassing lengthy litigious disputes, it should assume that role.

Survivors are faced with physical therapy, psychological trauma and even hospital bills. Imagine receiving a bill for being shot. Worse, imagine getting a bill for burying your daughter, wife or mother, and then watching $225,000 in the killer’s property go elsewhere. Pitt has it in its power to stop that from happening.

Refusing the funds represents sincerely good intentions, but that alone would seem like a lazy way out of a potential public relations fiasco. After all, accepting the donation and using it to renovate Towers or upgrade a sports program would be rather crass. Pitt has a responsibility to maintain a dignified image, and keeping Sodini’s estate would sully that image. More importantly, as a public institution, the University has the responsibility to better its community.

If the University can deliver those funds to the victims, though, rejecting the money outright would seem like the University is shirking these responsibilities. The victims were not Pitt students, but that should not prevent the University from helping them if it has the power to do so.

If Pitt can expedite the process of getting the victims some compensation, the University should not sit back and hope for the best. By accepting and redistributing the funds, the University can fulfill its own stated wishes.