The family of a woman slain during the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard is seeking $37.5 million from the government, saying the Navy and Department of Veterans Affairs ignored red flags about the killer’s deteriorating mental health.
During a news conference Friday in Tampa, attorneys for the family of Mary DeLorenzo Knight said they were seeking the money in an administrative claim. The claim, one of the first steps toward filing a lawsuit, has been delivered to the agencies.
Under federal law, the Navy and VA must investigate the claim and determine whether it has merit. If they think it doesn’t, attorneys for Knight’s family said they will sue.
A VA spokesman and a spokeswoman from the Navy said they couldn’t comment.
“The Navy remains committed to providing continued support to the victims and families of this tragic event through our Washington Navy Yard Recovery Task Force,” said Navy spokeswoman Courtney L. Hillson. The task force provides physical and behavioral health care needs among other things.
Knight was one of 12 people gunned down by Aaron Alexis on Sept. 16 before he was killed in a shootout with police. The lawsuit said the contractor Alexis worked for should have told the Navy about his mental health problems and that the Navy should not have given him security clearance. Navy officials have said they found no record the company alerted the Navy about his mental health.
Knight, a 51-year-old divorced mother of two adult daughters, was born into a military family and worked as an expert in cybersecurity at the Navy Yard.
“My sister would want me to fight for her and fight for the girls,” said Patricia DeLorenzo, Knight’s younger sister.
DeLorenzo wanted to know why a man with a mental illness was allowed into the Navy Yard with a gun.
The FBI has said Alexis entered the Navy Yard in a vehicle and parked in a deck across from Building 197. He went into the building carrying a bag and came out of a fourth-floor bathroom with a shotgun.
“We can stop crazy guys with guns from coming on our property,” Knight family attorney Sidney Matthew said. “Since 9-11, there is no excuse for any governmental agency not to pass along information that there are dangerous crazy guys out there.”
Alexis was employed by the Fort Lauderdale-based company The Experts. The company declined comment on the claim.
The Navy has ordered an in-depth investigation into the shooting and the events that led up to it, including a detailed look at the shooter, his mental health background and whether any adverse information was ever reported to the service about him.
According to the lawsuit, Alexis was delusional and believed “he was being controlled or influenced by low-frequency electromagnetic waves.” The lawsuit said the VA failed to treat his mental illness when Alexis went to a VA emergency room Aug. 23 for insomnia and detailed three arrests involving Alexis and his post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management problems and alcohol abuse.
The VA has said Alexis visited hospitals in Washington and Rhode Island in the weeks before the rampage but denied that he was depressed or having thoughts of harming himself or others.
The VA has also said he was evaluated for mental health problems that might have contributed to his insomnia, but records don’t reveal a history of mental health disorders.
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com