4 sailors at Virginia naval center die by apparent suicide in a month
The Navy and local authorities are investigating the suspected suicide deaths of four sailors all assigned to the same ship maintenance center in Norfolk, Virginia, in the span of less than a month.
All four were assigned to Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) at Naval Station Norfolk, the Navy confirmed to The Hill on Friday.
The most recently deceased of the four, Janelle Holder, was found dead on Nov. 26, according to Lt. Cmdr. Rochelle Rieger, a public affairs officer with MARMC.
The three other sailors, Kody Lee Decker, 22, of Virginia; Cameron Armstrong; and Deonte Autry, 22, of Monroe, N.C., died on Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 14, respectively.
“The circumstances surrounding these separate incidents are currently under investigation by local police departments and the U.S. Navy,” Rieger said.
“We mourn the loss of our shipmates and friends. Our thoughts and our deepest condolences are with these Sailors’ families, loved ones, and coworkers during this extremely difficult time,” she added.
NBC News first reported on the deaths.
Kayla Arestivo, a licensed counselor brought to the center in mid-November to help sailors in the unit, told NBC that she “was inundated with the amount of hopelessness at that command.”
She added that “toxic leadership,” was an issue highlighted by the sailors she saw, including feeling overworked and undervalued by leaders.
A Navy spokesperson confirmed to The Hill that Arestivo, who is not typically on staff, was brought in along with other experts as part of a suicide prevention stand-down at MARMC between Nov. 14 and 16.
The stand-down included presentations from different mental health organizations — including the command’s own suicide prevention coordinator — which all of the center’s assigned 3,000 sailors and civilian staff were required to receive, the spokesperson said.
They added that there were also counseling services made available, including one-on-one sessions and other resources.
About 1,500 uniformed sailors and 1,500 civilian staff are assigned to MARMC. Of the 1,500 sailors, about 500 are on limited duty for a variety of reasons, including mental or physical disabilities, are pregnant or postpartum mothers unable to be stationed aboard a ship or are dealing with personal circumstances such as a sick spouse.
All four sailors suspected of dying by suicide were on limited duty, the spokesperson confirmed.
This is the Navy’s second major string of suicides within a year.
In April, three sailors assigned to the USS George Washington — about 30 miles away from Norfolk in Newport News, Virginia — died by suicide within less than a week of each other.
“One suicide is too many and MARMC leadership is taking a proactive approach to support the team, improve mental fitness, and manage the stress of its sailors,” Rieger said. “We remain fully engaged with our sailors and their families to ensure their health and well-being, and to ensure a climate of trust that encourages sailors to ask for help.”
She added that leadership, chaplains, psychologists, and counselors are currently providing support and counseling to MARMC’s workforce “and for anyone in need of help.”
The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org.