NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The April deaths of three USS George Washington sailors by suicide were not connected, and each had “unique and individualized life stressors which were contributing factors leading to their deaths,” a U.S. Navy command investigation revealed Monday.
The investigation concluded that besides being assigned to the same ship undergoing an extensive shipyard maintenance period, “the sailors had no social or working relationships with one another.”
“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, in a statement.
The 86-page report examined the circumstances surrounding the deaths by suicide involving three sailors in a one-week period – Mikail Sharp, Natasha Huffman, and Xavier Mitchell-Sandor – and said all three had access to readily-available means.
The Navy said all three had contributing life stressors and an impaired mental state.
Mikail Sharp, 23, died at a private residence, and according to the report, had been drinking and had emotional distress rooted in marital challenges with his wife. The night of his death, Sharp and his wife were at a gender-reveal party.
The Navy said Natasha Huffman was the only one of the three to seek mental health care. According to the report, she was in divorce proceedings with her husband and had been drinking while on different medications.
The Navy said she had been getting regular shots of ketamine, a controlled substance not known to be used by the Navy for psychiatric treatment.
Xavier Mitchell-Sandor died by suicide while he was on watch aboard George Washington. He had enlisted in the Navy less than a year before his death.
The report says Mitchell-Sandor was at risk of dying by suicide because of significant sleep deprivation – and he wanted out of the Navy, even though he still had three years left to serve.
The investigation looked into the sailors’ working environment, along with their lives and relationships outside the Navy, and other factors or stressors that it said may have contributed to their decisions.
The three sailors from the USS George Washington were found dead in less than a week’s span, and the Navy said at the time it did not believe the deaths were connected and were under investigation separately.
“We have taken a number of additional steps to provide for the care and well-being of our service members,” Meier said, “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.”
Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, directed Meier to investigate the deaths of the sailors who were assigned to USS George Washington, to include correlations, and the systemic relationships between them.
“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,” Caudle said. “We can, however, investigate why they did what they did, learn from it, and use that information to prevent it from happening again. We owe that to every sailor to keep them physically and mentally safe.”
A second, broader investigation into the command climate and quality of service challenges unique to the shipyard environment continues. It will result in recommendations for immediate short and long-term actions needed.
This investigation team includes various subject matter experts who will review areas including:
- Command climate
- Mental health
- Human factors
- Navy policy regarding sailors residing onboard ship during extended maintenance availabilities
- Overall shipyard safety
- Disciplinary and administrative actions and procedures
The military has mental health resources available to service members, veterans, and their families. Some of those resources include:
- Military OneSource
- The Psychological Health Center of Excellence
- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Resources
- The Military Crisis Line: Call at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text at 838255
If you or a loved one is in crisis, use these resources to seek help:
- Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Dial 988, open 24 hours a day
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255)