The sailor who killed himself while barricaded in a fourth-floor room at The Kahala Hotel & Resort during a standoff with police this weekend died a month after another member of the Pacific Fleet’s submarine force died of a gunshot wound while on duty at Pearl Harbor.
The deaths underscored the challenges facing the Navy as it tries to implement promised reforms in addressing mental health issues and other problems following a 2019 murder-suicide by another member of the submarine force at the Honolulu shipyard.
The Honolulu Medical Examiner identified the 40-year-old sailor who died on Saturday as Russell Cruz of Kailua, according to media reports.
The Navy refused to release his name or occupation but confirmed that the sailor had been assigned to the Pearl Harbor-based Pacific Fleet submarine force.
“Each member of our team is important,” said Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Fleet’s submarine force. “This is a tragic loss to our submarine force and the Navy family. So we do take it very seriously.”
Fields declined to identify the sailor or provide more details until his family and chain of command have all been fully informed.
“Honolulu PD are looking into this case,” said Fields. “They have leads for this case and are looking at the causation or what might have been the reason for the person to be in the room or to want to harm themselves.”
Also under investigation is the death of Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Julian, a 23-year-old torpedoman’s mate who was assigned to the fast-attack submarine USS Charlotte. He was found dead on March 15 of “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” while guarding the sub at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, according to a press release at the time. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is leading that investigation.
Navy officials issued a series of recommendations after Machinist’s Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the attack submarine USS Columbia, opened fire on civilian workers on Dec. 4, 2019, killing two and wounding another before turning a pistol on himself.
The 190-page investigation report did not determine a motive for the killings but called for a major overhaul of Naval Submarine Support Command’s Embedded Mental Health Program, or eMHP, along with a series of other changes.
It also noted that the Columbia’s chief of boat told investigators Romero’s behavior before the shooting didn’t raise red flags because “other Sailors worried the COB more at the time.” Many sailors on the Columbia reported low morale, high stress and mental health concerns.
The investigation found many were “unwilling to seek help for mental health issues due to fear of negative impacts on their security clearance or job” and that “a review of Romero’s care and eMHP Clinic diagnostic data indicate a potential pattern of under-diagnosis to maintain patients on submarine duty.”
As in the general population, suicides have been a concern for the military for years across all the service branches. According to the most recent Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report released in October, at least 498 troops died by suicide in 2019 — marking a six-year high.
For the past few years the Pacific Fleet has conducted continuous operations across the region amid increased tensions with the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea. The high rate of operations and training has been demanding on both troops and equipment as both sides push them to their limits.
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Kevin Knodell covers the military and veterans in Hawaii and the greater Pacific for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms.