LAKEWOOD, Wash. – Jaime DeMello, the mother of a 13-year-old Alex DeMello who was killed on Joint Base Lewis-McChord last October, believes her son would still be alive if the fence securing the facility hadn’t been left damaged for years.
DeMello and her attorneys recently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against JBLM. The suit asks for damages and hopes to pressure the military base to work harder to keep civilians out of secure areas.
“He was a young man who was going to become someone and he had dreams,” DeMello told Q13 News in her Tacoma attorney’s offices.
Jaime pulled a photograph from her purse, saying it was her favorite on her son Alex because, “It looks like he has angel wings in the back.”
Alex died after being shot by a friend in October 2015 after three boys had snuck onto JBLM through a hole in a perimeter fence. A 17-year-old boy who was with Alex at the time of the shooting told police he accidentally fired a gun, striking Alex in his head. Alex later died in a local hospital.
DeMello’s attorneys allege JBLM knew about the broken fence for close to a decade. They also believe the federal government should shoulder some blame for Alex’s death.
“They knew there were holes in the fence,” said attorney Jessica Holman Duthie. “They said it was a safety concern and yet they did nothing about it for years.”
Jaime’s attorneys shared with Q13 News emails from inside JBLM that were made available through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
Duthies said the messages show the military knew about the problem since at least 2011. Duthie also said the emails mentioned that a half-mile portion of the security fence did not exist in the same neighborhood where Alex died.
Q13 News also discovered several other areas around JBLM that appeared to be easily accessible by potential trespassers. One of the locations includes a gap between fencing where Alex and his friends made their way onto the base last fall.
“For over nine years, JBLM knew about the breach and the hole in the fence,” said attorney Floyd Chapman. “We think they had a responsibility to repair that fence to prevent this from occurring.”
DeMello said Alex was no stranger to tragedy, saying he had recently been through a death in the family.
“He had lost his father figure six months before all this,” she said. “In those six months he had expressed he wanted to be an organ donor.”
DeMello said because of Alex’s wishes, nearly a half dozen strangers across the country benefited by receiving some of his organs and tissue.
While she can never have her baby boy back, Jaime said she takes comfort knowing Alex’s sense of love and kindness lives on helping other people.
“One lady is a nurse at St. Jude Hospital in Chicago and she wrote me the beautiful letter,” said Jaime. “That’s what brings me comfort, is he’s carrying on.”
DeMello’s attorneys are asking for unspecified damages in their wrongful death suit, plus they want JBLM to do a better job securing their property lines.
Q13 News asked for a comment from JBLM, but had not received an answer back as of this writing.