The family of a Reston woman who was one of 12 people gunned down during the Washington Navy Yard shootings on Sept. 16 has filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit against the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging that the mental health of shooter Aaron Alexis was not properly evaluated, and that proper security measures were not undertaken.
Two federal contractors which employed Alexis — The Experts Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprises — are also named in the suit.
According to a family spokesperson, Mary Frances DeLorenzo Knight, 51, worked as a civilian cybersecurity expert for the Naval Sea Systems Command, and had been living in Reston for the last five years. She was a divorced mother of two adult daughters and was survived by them, as well as two siblings.
Knight also had recently become an adjunct assistant professor at Northern Virginia Community College in Loudoun and Annandale. College officials said Knight taught a spreadsheet software class Monday nights at the Loudoun campus, and software design class Thursday nights in Annandale.
The federal lawsuit was filed Dec. 4 in Tampa, Fla., where Knight’s younger sister, Patricia DeLorenzo, 38, lives with her family. It seeks $37.5 million in damages.
“My sister would want me to fight for her and fight for her girls, so that is what I am going to do and make sure this never happens again,” said DeLorenzo.
According to the 99-page complaint, which was filed by Tallahassee, Fla., attorney Sidney Matthew, the contractors that Alexis worked for should have informed the U.S. Navy of his documented mental health issues, and he should have never been given security clearance by the U.S. Navy.
According to FBI spokeswoman Valerie Parlave, Alexis “had legitimate access to the Navy Yard as a result of his work as a contractor, and he utilized a valid pass to gain entry to the building.”
Hewlett Packard said in a statement immediately following the shooting that “Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called ‘The Experts,’ a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network.”
According to the suit, Alexis’ mental instability had been documented numerous times prior to the shooting.
“Alexis was arrested in 2010 by the Tarrant County Texas Sheriff’s Office for firing a gun through the ceiling of his apartment in an angry episode directed at his neighbor living in the apartment above him [and] was suffering delusions that his neighbor was intentionally keeping him awake by talking to him through the floor and sending vibrations into his body,” the suit states.
The suit claims Alexis also complained on Aug. 7 to police officers in Newport, R.I., that he was “being threatened by unseen people and feared that ‘some sort of microwave machine’ was penetrating his body.”
Matthew also claims that the Department of Veterans Affairs also failed to properly diagnose and treat Alexis’ mental illness issues on Aug. 23 when he sought help at a VA emergency facility in Providence, R.I., for “psychotic episodes and sleep deprivation.”
According to Matthew, even though Alexis’ mental health problems were ignored by officials, and he was in possession of a security clearance and a valid pass, the shooting could still have been prevented by the use of metal detectors at the entrance to the Navy yard, where there were none.
“We believe that Mr. Alexis entered Building 197 at the Navy Yard with a shotgun,” said FBI spokeswoman Valerie Parlave immediately following the shooting.
“To my knowledge, there are still no metal detectors installed there,” said Matthews in a phone interview this week. “Mary Delorenzo Knight’s life needs to stand for something, and metal detectors need to be installed to prevent this from ever happening again.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to comment on the suit, citing pending litigation.
A U.S. Navy spokesman deferred “all media inquiries concerning pending litigation” to the U.S. Department of Justice, which did not immediately return messages. Messages left for The Experts Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprises were also not immediately returned.