NORFOLK, Va. – Navy officials are searching for answers about what may have motivated a civilian to approach a docked destroyer, struggle with security personnel, disarm a sailor, then shoot and kill someone coming to that sailor’s aid.
The civilian was shot and killed by Navy security forces shortly after the encounter late Monday night aboard the USS Mahan at Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base.
The unidentified civilian was authorized to be on base, but it wasn’t immediately clear for what reason or why he would want to approach the guided-missile destroyer, which shares a pier with a hospital ship, the USNS Comfort.
The Navy said the civilian was coming toward the ship’s quarterdeck, which is traditionally the ceremonial entry point of a ship, when he got into a struggle with the Petty Officer of the Watch, whom he was able to disarm.
Navy officials have not released the names of the civilian or the sailor who died. No other injuries were reported from the encounter.
To get onto the base, civilians must be escorted or have identification that allows them to be there. Authorized civilians include Department of Defense employees, contractors and military family members.
Capt. Robert Clark, Naval Station Norfolk’s commanding officer, said Tuesday that identification found with the civilian indicates it is unlikely he was a military dependent authorized to be on base for that reason.
Clark said the civilian was found with a TWIC card, a transportation worker’s credential issued by the Transportation Security Administration to personnel such as truck drivers who require unescorted access to secure areas. But he said it was unclear what exactly the civilian’s job was or when he worked on the base.
All merchant mariners are required to have a TWIC card, including employees of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, which hires civilians to crew its ships, including the USNS Comfort. The cards are valid for five years, according to the TSA.
Each base entrance is guarded, and motorists present IDs. Inspections are rare, and Clark noted that the civilian did not bring a weapon on base.
Clark said the base would review its security procedures but also said the Navy’s response shows that “force protection is working.”
All 13 piers have additional security forces that guard access. As part of ongoing security efforts, hand-held ID scanners were implemented this year at Navy bases in the region, including the Norfolk station.
The shooting on the Mahan comes about a month after the Navy held anti-terrorism and force protection exercises on bases across the U.S., including an active-shooter drill at Naval Station Norfolk. And it follows a September incident at the Washington Navy Yard, in which a gunman — identified as a contractor and former Navy reservist — killed 12 civilian workers before being shot to death.
The Norfolk base was briefly on lockdown after the Monday night shooting but had resumed normal operations aside from the Mahan’s pier Tuesday. Counselors were made available for those who needed them, officials said. On social media, many of those who had connections to the ship or sailors aboard it changed their profile pictures to the ship’s emblem.
Naval Station Norfolk covers more than 6,000 acres and is the home port for 64 ships, according to information the Navy provided in February. About 46,000 military members and 21,000 civilian government employees and contractors are assigned to the base and its ships, according to the Navy figures.
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