USS George Washington Sailor Found Aboard Carrier Died from Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound, Say Local Officials

April 22, 2022 6:48 PM
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) begins the transit to Newport News, Va., on Aug. 4, 2017, to begin a refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) maintenance at Newport News Shipyard. US Navy photo.

A sailor assigned to USS George Washington (CVN-73) died last week from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on the carrier, USNI News has learned.

According to a determination from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, Master-at-Arms Seaman Recruit Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor died from suicide by gunshot wound on April 15.

A spokeswoman from U.S. Fleet Forces Command would not confirm to USNI News any of the details from the medical examiner about the incident, citing several ongoing investigations into a string of suicides aboard the carrier. A spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service likewise would not confirm if Mitchell-Sandor was on duty or if the weapon in question belonged to the service, citing an ongoing investigation.

“NCIS is conducting a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of MASR Xavier Mitchell-Sandor, as we do in response to all non-combat, medically unattended fatalities of Department of the Navy service members,” spokesman Jeff Houston said.

On Thursday, the Navy said Mitchell-Sandor “was found unresponsive on board the ship on April 15. The sailor was treated by the medical team on board before being transported to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News where the service member passed away.”

Sailors with the Master-At-Arm rating act as military police aboard ships and on shore. Mitchell-Sandor, who had enlisted in August, had attended the rating’s “A” School in San Antonino before transferring to the carrier, according to his releasable bio.

The Navy has experienced multiple suicides by on-duty armed sailors since December of 2019, according to USNI News’ records.

On Dec. 4, 2019, Machinist Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Romero, 22, who was on watch for USS Columbia (SSN-771) while the submarine was in maintenance at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii, killed two civilian shipyard workers and then himself.

On Oct. 13, 2020, Seaman Isaiah Peralta, on duty aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while standing a security watch on Lima Pier at North Island, Calif.

On March 17, 2021, Torpedoman’s Mate 3rd Class Petty Officer Manuel Julian Jr., 23, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while standing watch on USS Charlotte (SSN-766), which was in port for maintenance at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

Mitchell-Sandor was one of three sailors assigned to George Washington to die from suicide this month. All three deaths happened within a week of each other.

Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mika’il Sharp died on April 9 and Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman died on April 10. Both deaths were suicides, according to information the local medical examiner provided to USNI News.

Sharp enlisted on June 10, 2020, and reported to George Washington on Oct. 3, 2020. The ship was his first assignment.

Huffman, from Minnesota, enlisted on July 11, 2018, and reported to George Washington on May 21, 2019. George Washington was also her first assignment.

A yet-to-be-identified fourth sailor died by suicide in December. In total, seven sailors assigned to George Washington have died in the last year.

“We can confirm seven total deaths of service members assigned to USS George Washington over the past 12 months — 4 in 2021, and 3 in 2022. The circumstances surrounding these incidents vary and it is premature to make assumptions, as some incidents remain under investigation,” Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers said in a statement.

Fleet Forces commander Adm. Daryl Caudle has ordered an investigation into the deaths “to include correlations, command climate and culture issues, and the systemic relationships between them,” reads a statement provided to USNI News on Thursday.

George Washington is pier side at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia for the last stretch of its five-year-long refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) that occurs at the midlife of an aircraft carrier.

Maintenance periods are difficult periods for ship’s crews, particularly for junior sailors who live for months or years at a time adjacent to the noisy and dangerous industrial areas aboard or in aging berthing barges in shipyards.

In 2019, three sailors assigned to USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) committed suicide while the ship was in a 30-month maintenance period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Va.

Suicide Prevention Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

The Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and educational tools for commands. The handbook is organized to support fundamental command Suicide Prevention Program efforts in Training, Intervention, Response, and Reporting.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that supports psychological health. The toolkit includes suggestions for assisting sailors in staying mission ready, recognizing warning signs of increased suicide risk in oneself or others, and taking action to promote safety.

The Lifelink Monthly Newsletter provides recommendations for sailors and families, including how to help survivors of suicide loss and to practice self-care.

The Navy Operational Stress Control Blog “NavStress” provides sailors with content promoting stress navigation and suicide prevention. 

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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