TAMPA — A Tampa woman whose sister was one of 12 people killed Sept. 16 in the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard has filed a federal wrongful-death claim with the U.S. Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Tallahassee lawyer Sidney Matthew announced the claim, which seeks $37.5 million from the U.S. Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a news conference Friday at Tampa's Marriott Waterside Hotel.
Matthew is representing Patricia DeLorenzo, whose sister, Mary Francis DeLorenzo Knight, was a naval cyber security specialist and one of 12 people killed in the shootings.
"This is unlike other shooting cases," Matthew said. "This case is not about gun control. This is about negligence. After 9/11, there is no excuse for not sharing the intelligence and not allowing the government to connect the dots."
The shooting was carried out by 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor for the Navy with a troubled personal history, who was shot and killed by police. Alexis had been investigated multiple times in connection with gun-related violence and had shown signs of mental illness as recently as August.
That month, Rhode Island police encountered Alexis, who complained he was hearing voices, being followed and kept awake by people sending vibrations into his body through a microwave machine. A report of the incident was sent to Navy officials, but it did not prevent him from being transferred to Washington, D.C., where he used a valid security pass to access the Navy Yard. He had also sought care from the Department of Veterans Affairs for insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder, but was not committed.
All of that, Matthew said, should have been enough for the Navy to take away access to its facilities. He should have been checked for weapons beforehand, just as visitors are before entering most federal buildings in Washington, the attorney said.
"This is like letting a rattlesnake into your tent," Matthew said.
The administrative claim is a preliminary step before the official filing of a federal lawsuit.
Ms. Knight, 51, lived in Reston, Va., but had previously lived in Tampa, where her sister still resides. She left behind two daughters: Danielle Knight, 20, and Nicole Jackson, 25.
Addressing reporters Friday, Patricia DeLorenzo, 38, spoke through tears about her older sister, whom she described as the matriarch of the family.
"She was the smartest, brightest person I knew. She was always 10 steps ahead of everybody else," DeLorenzo said. "My sister would want for me to fight for her and fight for the girls."
Knight wrote as much in a letter attached to her will dated Dec. 11, 2007, Matthew said.
"Nobody else needs to die because the Navy doesn't follow proper procedures of security," he said. "Even the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, admits that mistakes were made, that red flags were flying."