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Navy releases report on deaths of sailors on USS George Washington

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Posted at 5:57 AM, Dec 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-20 08:57:10-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — In a new report released by the U.S. Navy on Monday, the three USS George Washington sailors that died by suicide in April "had no social or working relationships with one another" and were each "experiencing unique and individualized life stressors, which were contributing factors leading to their deaths."

One sailor was found unresponsive onboard the carrier on April 15, while two other sailors were found at off-base locations on April 9 and April 10.

The ship was docked in Newport News at the time.

Officials later identified the sailors as Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mikail Sharp, Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman, and Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor.

The Navy released the report after conducting an investigation, which looked into the environment where the sailors worked in addition to their lives and relationships outside the U.S. Navy and other factors.

“We have diligently worked to determine the facts and understand the circumstances surrounding these tragic events with the hope that this will not only provide closure to those grieving the loss of our shipmates but to learn and better refine our process to address a public health issue that affects families, communities, and our society,” said Rear Adm. John F. Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic. “We have taken a number of additional steps to provide for the care and well-being of our service members, but the bottom line is that we can, and will, do more for our Sailors and their families. I look forward to the further recommendations that are expected in the coming months to inform future actions, which I am confident will have lasting benefits for our Navy."

A secondary investigation is looking into several areas, including command climate, safety, habitability, personnel/manning, mental health, security, human factors, Navy policy regarding sailors residing onboard ships during extended maintenance availabilities, overall shipyard safety, and disciplinary and administrative actions and procedures. From that investigation will come recommendations to address identified challenges.

The report shows Sharp took his own life after a night of heavy drinking and was in the midst of a dispute with his wife.

Huffman had a history of mental health challenges and had gotten into an argument with her live-in boyfriend the night she died and had also been drinking, the report showed.

Mitchell-Sandor lived on the ship but did not like the arrangements, the report showed. He was given opportunities to sleep elsewhere, but didn't, including on the night he died. He was in the process of trying to find alternative housing.

The report showed more senior members of the Navy should've encouraged him to sleep elsewhere or make better decisions.

"This was a time for intrusive leadership," the report notes.

The report shows Mitchell-Sandor wanted to leave the Navy but still had three years left in his contract.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine has been following the issues on the ship as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He says because the ship has been getting extended maintenance at the shipyard, sailors may feel like they didn't sign-up to serve on a ship at a shipyard.

"I think that's the big question that I leave. We can provide more mental health resources and we should, those are easier fixes," Kaine told reporters last week. "How do we give somebody that sense of purpose when they're not doing what they thought they were going to be doing?"

If you or a military member/veteran you know needs help with their mental health, click here for resources.

Jay Greene and Brendan Ponton at WTKR first reported this story.