The tragic tale of Detective Vicky O. Armel and Officer Michael S. Garbarino, two Fairfax County police officers who were shot to death by a mentally ill teenager in 2006, ended quietly in a Fairfax courtroom late last month when their families settled their lawsuits against the youth's parents for $300,000 each.
Some details emerged during the course of the suit, which came from the meticulous investigation by Fairfax homicide detectives, according to Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the attorney for both families and a longtime friend of Garbarino's. The two sides mainly agreed on the facts of the May 8, 2006, shooting behind the Sully police station because lead Detective Robert J. Murphy and others "literally tracked every second of each bit player in this drama," Cuccinelli said. "They could tell you where each person was. They put it all back together."
The slayings, the first of Fairfax officers in the line of duty, began when Michael W. Kennedy broke into a wooden footlocker inside his family's Centreville townhouse that afternoon and took 2 high-powered rifles, 5 handguns and 300 rounds of ammunition. Kennedy then stole a van from a worker in his neighborhood, drove to the Sully station parking lot and fatally shot Armel, 40, and Garbarino, 53, before being shot dead by other officers.
Garbarino is survived by his wife, Suzanne, and daughters Katherine, 16, and Natalie, 12. Armel is survived by her husband, Tyler, and their children, Thomas, 9, and Masen, 6.
Their spouses sued Brian and Margaret Kennedy for negligence and wrongful death, claiming the parents should not have allowed their weapons to be accessible to a son with mental illness and a history of violence. Three days before the shooting, Michael Kennedy had seen a mental health therapist, one of many he had visited in the previous year. He had allegedly committed a carjacking and shot the family dog in recent months.
Brian Kennedy was prosecuted by federal authorities for criminal gun violations related to the case, pleaded guilty and was sentenced last year to 40 months in prison, which he is serving.
The civil suit was defended by Liberty Mutual Insurance, which provided homeowners insurance for the Kennedys. The policy had a maximum $300,000 of personal liability for "each occurrence" at the home. Liberty Mutual argued that Michael Kennedy's taking of the guns was a single occurrence and asked the Fairfax Circuit Court to limit the case to one event. Cuccinelli argued that two people were killed and so two events occurred. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Marcus D. Williams ruled in favor of the Armel and Garbarino families in April.
Liberty Mutual at first moved to appeal the judge's ruling but then withdrew the claim in July and moved toward settlement. Then another hurdle arose in the case.
Fairfax County's attorneys filed liens on both lawsuits in July, saying the county was entitled to recover medical costs and death benefits it had paid. The county said it had paid Garbarino or his family $287,375 and Armel's family $284,431. The liens, if enforced, would have taken nearly all the $300,000 available from the Liberty Mutual policy.
Cuccinelli approached the Fairfax Board of Supervisors in August and asked whether the county would consider waiving the lien. "They were pretty accommodating," Cuccinelli said. "I just had to present the case to them. They were not very reluctant."
The liens were formally waived in court last month, and Liberty Mutual paid each family at the end of September, court records show.
Before a settlement was reached, the two sides presented an agreed "stipulation of facts" that provided new details about the sequence of events in the Sully parking lot, which many officers think Kennedy was able to enter because the gate was broken that day.
When Kennedy pulled into the parking lot, he immediately spotted Garbarino sitting in an unmarked cruiser. Kennedy repeatedly fired an AK-47-style assault rifle into Garbarino's car, then walked to the back of the van and fired into the police station's gas pumps, which did not ignite.
Kennedy returned to the van and reloaded the rifle, the stipulation states, then fired at Lt. John Absalon, who escaped. Kennedy returned to the van, picked up a .30-06 rifle and began walking down the sloping parking lot toward Armel, who by then had donned a bullet-resistant vest and began firing at Kennedy.
Kennedy's shots struck Armel in the chest, penetrating her vest, and she scrambled to get in her car, the stipulation states. Kennedy then switched back to the AK-47-style rifle and continued firing at Armel, hitting her twice in the legs.
Officer Richard A. Lehr, waiting in his own sport-utility vehicle for his shift to start, climbed out and began firing at Kennedy, hitting him at least once. The stipulation says Kennedy fired at Lehr with the .30-06 rifle and a .22-caliber pistol, missing him.
Officers Jeffrey Andrea and Mark Dale then began firing at Kennedy from outside the parking lot fence, killing him.
For the families of Armel and Garbarino, Cuccinelli said, "all of the follow-up is now over. And they're happy about that."