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3 suicides in 1 week on same aircraft carrier were unrelated, Navy investigation finds

<i>Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</i><br/>A US Navy investigation found that three suicides within one week in April among the crew of an aircraft carrier in Newport News
Getty Images
Murat Kaynak/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A US Navy investigation found that three suicides within one week in April among the crew of an aircraft carrier in Newport News

By Oren Liebermann and Henry Klapper, CNN

A US Navy investigation found that three suicides within one week in April among the crew of an aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia, were “not related or connected.”

The deaths on board the USS George Washington were the result of “unique and individualized” stresses for each sailor, coupled with a “readily available” means to die by suicide and an “impaired mental state,” the investigation concluded.

The report, conducted by the Commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic, comes as the Navy is investigating a separate series of suicides in nearby Norfolk, Virginia. Between late-October and late-November, four sailors at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Medical Center died by suicide. The Navy launched a command investigation to find out if there were common circumstances between the deaths, as well as looking into each death on its own.

The three enlisted sailors were on their initial assignments on the crew of the USS George Washington, which was going through a multi-year refueling and overhaul process in the shipyards in Newport News. The sailors all worked in different departments, and the investigation found no available evidence that they had social or working relationships.

“The loss of these three Sailors and the impact their deaths had on their shipmates, family and friends is nothing that can ever be measured,” said Admiral Daryl Caudle, the commander of Fleet Forces Command. “We can, however, investigate why they did what they did, learn from it, and use that information to prevent it from happening again.”

Two of the sailors — RS3 Mikai’l Sharp and IC3 Natasha Huffman — died by suicide one night apart. The Navy investigation found they had each been drinking heavily. Less than a week later, MASR Xavier-Mitchell-Sandor shot and killed himself with his Navy-issued weapon on board the USS George Washington. The Navy found that Mitchell-Sandor was severely sleep deprived and distraught by living conditions on board the ship.

The three cases that were the focus of Monday’s report were not the only deaths among the crew. In a 12-month period, seven members of the USS George Washington crew died, of which at least four were by suicide.

The Navy said it found no evidence that the deaths “were related in any way.” But the investigation exposed serious issues with the living conditions on board the ship, described by current and former crewmembers in detail to CNN. The carrier was undergoing constant maintenance and work, and “the sounds of needle gunning, bells going off, frequent announcements on the ship’s main circuit public announcement system (1 MC), grinding, etc., are common.”

The investigation also found a complete lack of mental health resources for sailors. The ship’s psychologist and behavioral health technician were “overwhelmed” with the demand for mental health resources, and initial appointments had a backlog of 4-6 weeks. In the 18 months prior to the deaths, the ship had reported 2,600 mental health encounters. The ship also has only one Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) for 2,700 sailors.

The Navy recommended that the USS George Washington conduct additional training on suicide prevention, as well as training on what mental health resources are available to the crew. In addition, the investigation recommended a review of whether new sailors assigned to a ship undergoing maintenance should split their time with a ship at sea.

Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one have contemplated suicide, call The National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a trained counselor.

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