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Courts / Law

Tampa Family of Woman Slain in Washington Navy Yard Shootings Sues Navy

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Steve Newborn
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WUSF

The repercussions from the deadly shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard have spread to Tampa. Today, lawyers representing the family of one of the people shot in September announced they're suing the Navy.

Her name was Mary Frances DeLorenzo Knight. She was one of the 12 people killed by Aaron Alexis on September 16 before he was killed in a shootout with police. Now, her Tampa family is suing the Navy for $37.5 million in damages.

They claim the Navy knew Alexis had a history of mental illness, should not have been given clearance to enter the Navy Yard and that he should have been checked for weapons. Tallahassee attorney Sidney Matthew represents the family.

"This is a question of the Navy violating its own security policies and procedures - not to let armed crazy men come on to their property," he said.

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. Her sister, Patricia DeLorenzo, lives in Tampa and stood by Matthews' side.

"My sister - she's the smartest, brightest person I know," she said. "Just a genius, really. She was always 10 steps ahead of everyone else. Very thoughtful, caring. She was really the matriarch of our family."

Matthew says they will file a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

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.

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.

--Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.