PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — A man suspected of repeatedly stabbing a fellow sailor near a naval hospital was arrested Friday, ending an hourslong manhunt, according to the Navy.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Harwell got into a morning argument with a fellow service member outside the Navy Exchange at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Portsmouth Annex, the Navy said.
He was apprehended later in nearby Virginia Beach, said Capt. Michael “Jake” Johansson, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads. It wasn’t immediately clear when Harwell, 26, left the installation or how he did so. Johansson said the facility was placed on lockdown as soon as officials learned about the stabbing.
The installation where the stabbing occurred is home to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and sits near a residential area on the Elizabeth River, where thousands of people had gathered across the river in downtown Norfolk to watch a parade of ships as part of the annual Harborfest festival.
Security forces went door to door at the locked-down facility in search of the suspect. The Navy said Harwell was assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit in Norfolk and lived in a barracks on the Portsmouth installation. Transient personnel units serve sailors moving from one command to another as well as those who are about to leave the Navy, said Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokesman Jim Moir. Moir said he did not know which of those categories Harwell belonged to.
The Navy said the sailor who was stabbed in the chest and neck was taken to the naval hospital with critical injuries. The Navy identified him as Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell, 25, of Sarver, Pennsylvania, and said he remained in critical condition after surgery. Johansson said Powell’s wife was at the hospital during the surgery and that his parents were driving from Pennsylvania to be with him.
“I’d like everybody to keep their thoughts and prayers with the Powell family through the next few days,” Johansson said. “Good thoughts are warranted for this weekend.”
The two men knew each other, Johansson said, although he added that he wasn’t sure exactly what their relationship was before the altercation. Officials haven’t determined a motive, Johansson said. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is conducting the investigation.
The manhunt came a day after Naval Medical Center Portsmouth practiced an active-shooter drill as part of routine training.
“It was fortuitous in that pretty much everybody that was at the exercise yesterday, by face showed up today, so it was nice to have that collaboration,” Johansson said about the military and civilian responders.
The stabbing follows incidents earlier this year that prompted the Navy to place bases on lockdown in the Hampton Roads area.
In March, a civilian truck driver with a criminal record shot and killed Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo aboard the USS Mahan, a destroyer. The base, the largest naval base in the world, was briefly put on lockdown.
Trucker Jeffrey Tyrone Savage was later shot and killed by Navy personnel in a shootout aboard the ship.
As a result of that incident, more stringent rules were put in place to deny access to bases on the East Coast to transportation workers because of their criminal histories.
In April, a sailor was found dead in his barracks at the Portsmouth Annex. The grounds to the Portsmouth base were temporarily locked down as a precaution.
Associated Press Writer Steve Szkotak in Richmond contributed to this report.
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