TAMPA -- The family of a woman slain during the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard is the first to file a lawsuit against the U.S. government and defense contractors over the slaughter that left 12 dead, alleging that officials ignored warning signs about the killer's deteriorating mental health.
The suit on behalf of the family of Mary DeLorenzo Knight was filed Wednesday morning in federal court in Tampa. The lawsuit named the Navy, the Department of Veterans Affairs and two defense contractors as defendants. It's seeking at least $37.5 million in damages.
"We're all just torn apart," said Patricia DeLorenzo, the sister of the victim. "We just want to get through this."
Mary DeLorenzo Knight was one of 12 people killed by Aaron Alexis on Sept. 16 before he was killed in a shootout with police that alarmed residents of the U.S. capital.
The lawsuit said the contractor that Alexis worked for should have told the Navy about his prior, and documented, mental health problems and that the Navy should not have given him security clearance. Navy officials have said they found no record that the company alerted the Navy about his mental health.
The lawsuit said the Veterans Affairs department 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.
A department spokesman said Wednesday it does no comment on pending litigation. A Navy spokeswoman said the Navy remains committed to providing continued support to the victims and families through its Washington Navy Yard Recovery Task Force but referred The Associated Press to the U.S. Department of Justice for comment about ongoing litigation. An email sent to the Department of Justice seeking comment wasn't immediately answered.
The company that employed the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Fort Lauderdale-based The Experts, pulled his access to classified material for two days in August when mental health problems became evident, but restored it quickly and never told Navy officials about the withdrawal.
An initial Navy review revealed that The Experts ordered Alexis, a computer contractor, back to Washington after a police incident in the state of Rhode Island in August, according to senior U.S. officials. The company then withdrew his ability to access secret-level data for two days, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation. It did not disclose why his access was reinstated. Less than six weeks later, the former Navy reservist gunned down 12 civilian workers in a Navy Yard building, and police fatally shot him.
The Experts did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Sidney Matthew, the Florida-based attorney for the DeLorenzo family, said that while officials ignored problems about Alexis' mental health, the Navy could have stopped the shooting by requiring everyone to walk through a metal detector prior to entering the Navy Yard.
He said he hopes that this lawsuit will spur the Navy and other branches of the military to install such detectors.
"Mary DeLorenzo Knight's life needs to stand for something," he said. "We want change."