Officials say Navy sailor fabricated fire rescue story


Machinist Mate Nathaniel Atkins (Courtesy photo)

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The U.S. Navy has launched an investigation following a sailor’s claim that he helped save two children from a fire in Portsmouth last month.

Machinist Mate Nathaniel Atkins is assigned to the Norfolk-based USS Gerald R. Ford. During an interview on June 25, Atkins told 10 On Your Side he was leaving a nearby grocery store when he saw flames coming from a home on Victory Boulevard and pulled over to help.

“I have the training, and I needed to stop and help,” Atkins said at the time.

A 70-year-old woman inside the burning home died at the hospital. Three others inside the home, including two children, were injured.

“I wish that I had been there sooner. I could have saved the older woman,” Atkins told WAVY News 10.

Investigators ruled the fire suspicious and fire marshals have identified three persons of interest.

Atkins is not one of them, but during the investigation, officials say he admitted that he fabricated his heroics.

“When interviewed by the investigators in reference to the possible homicide, he [Atkins] admitted that he did not rescue anyone from the building and recanted his story.  He is not a suspect and is not being charged by the department. Navy officials are now handling this issue further,” said Justin R. Arnold, Portsmouth battalion chief deputy coordinator of emergency management.

The Navy has since retracted its original story about the fire.

Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Anderson, a spokesperson for Naval Air Force Atlantic, provided this statement:

“USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) is conducting an investigation into Machinist Mate 2nd Class Nathaniel Atkins’ role in a Portsmouth fire on June 24, and his subsequent statements given in an interview with Wavy News 10 and with Ford’s media department. The investigation is ongoing.”

The investigation into the fatal fire is also ongoing. Detectives and fire marshals still want to speak to those three persons of interest: Skyler L. Peacock, James J. Yoder, Jr. and Amanda M. Nutt.

Call the Portsmouth Police Department Major Crimes Unit at 757-393-8536 or the Portsmouth Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP if you have information on their whereabouts.

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