(WTNH) — A Navy investigation is underway after the deaths of seven service members assigned to the USS George Washington over the past year.
Four of these deaths were confirmed or apparent suicides, with three of the bodies being found in less than a week.
The Navy identified the three sailors who died as Shelton native Xavier Hunter Mitchell-Sandor, Mikail Sharp and Natasha Huffman.
Mitchell-Sandor, 19, was found unresponsive on the aircraft carrier with a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 15. He told his parents about the cramped, hot, and noisy conditions.
“We were always, ‘Xavier, It’ll get better,’ not knowing really what the conditions really were,” Mitchell-Sandor’s father, John Sandor said. “It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Huffman’s mother said in a Facebook post that her daughter had a “heart of gold” and always stood up for the underdog.
“She was fiercely protective of the people she loved,” Huffman’s mom said.
Now, the Navy is looking into whether the suicides are connected to conditions on the carrier.
Virginia Congresswoman Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran herself, told NewsNation local affiliate WAVY that when there’s a trend, it’s important to look deeper and see if there are any underlying causes.
After increasing from 2000 to 2018, the suicide rate actually decreased in the years between 2018 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a stark contrast with figures from the military, at least between 2019 and 2020. Suicides were up by 25% among all branches in the fourth quarter of 2020 when compared to the same quarter in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. (The previous year, however, suicide rates had dropped among all branches when compared to 2018.)
“Suicide is a significant concern inside the department. Certainly, it’s a concern for Sec. [Lloyd] Austin,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “You’ve heard him say many times that mental health is health period and that’s how he wants the department to look at this.”
In a statement to NewsNation, the Navy said the circumstances surrounding these incidents vary.
“It is premature to make assumptions, as some incidents remain under investigation,” the statement said. “The death of any sailor is one too many and we will thoroughly investigate these incidents to ensure we are providing the appropriate support and resources.”
The Navy will now help relocated approximately 260 sailors off the ship.
Nexstar Media Wire contributed to this report.