Sailor Who ‘Hated’ Navy Torched $1.2B Assault Ship: Warrant
A 20-year-old seaman with grudges against the U.S. Navy and a failed attempt to become a Navy SEAL is accused of setting fire to an amphibious assault ship and single-handedly costing the Navy $ 30 million in damage.
According to an NCIS affidavit received by The Daily Beast, Ryan Sawyer Mays aroused investigators' suspicions almost immediately after the 40,000-ton USS Bonhomme Richard went up in flames on July 12, 2020, burning for nearly five days and injuring dozens left behind who were involved in extinguishing the fire.
Mays, whose identity has not yet been disclosed, is now charged with arson within a special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, the use of fire to damage federal property and making false statements, the warrant says. If the Navy goes to court-martial instead, Mays will be charged with aggravated arson and willful endangerment of a ship, a Navy spokesman said. Mays does not have an attorney listed on the court records and was unavailable for comment.
The fire raged through the 14-deck ship after it began in a hold, with the temperature on board at times exceeding 1,000 degrees, chief of naval operations Admiral Mike Gilday told reporters last summer. The fire aboard the Bonhomme Richard, which was awaiting a $ 250 million upgrade at the time, was eventually wiped out by around 400 sailors from 16 ships, helicopters that dumped water into the flames, the San Diego Naval Base Fire Department, and numerous civil fire brigades tamed from surrounding cities.
The fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard lasted five days.
Every deck above the waterline was damaged and although no deaths or serious injuries were reported, 71 people were injured or treated for smoke inhalation. At least 18 firefighters filed claims for damages for the workers following the fire, alleging that they had suffered concussions, orthopedic problems and dehydration, among other things.
Mays was identified by NCIS investigators after interviewing about 177 sailors assigned to the Bonhomme Richard. One reported seeing a "fair-skinned man" in clean overalls and a face mask, who carried a metal pail into the lower V - the back of the ship - but did not recognize the person in question. But later, the seaman named Kenji Velasco on the search warrant's affidavit mentioned "a seaman named Mays who 'hates'' the US Navy and the Navy," the file says.
In further interviews, Velasco said he was "fairly certain" and "90% certain" that he saw Mays descend into the Lower V before the fire broke out. He also noted that fire fighting equipment appeared to have been tampered with in the area.
“Velasco went on to explain that in the hours and days after the fire, it dawned on him that the person who descended to Lower V at 8:05 am on the day of the fire was May's height and stature and had blonde hair that you can see coming could get out of his cover, like Mays, sounded like Mays and said: 'I love deck', which was a phrase from Velasco that Mays could say, ”read the affidavit, adding that other sailors suggested to investigators had that the person in question appeared to be Mays by dress and language, and that a Command Master Chief "identified Mays as a person who despised authority and the US Navy."
The investigators checked Mays' now private Instagram account and found a post that said: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning," explains the affidavit. Mays ‘ID card indicated that he joined the Navy in 2019" with the intention of training in advanced electronics computer fields, "then" changed his career goals to become a Navy SEAL. " But five days after the start of the SEAL training, Mays broke off his work and was assigned to Bonhomme Richard as an "undesignated seaman".
"According to the Navy leadership, the morale and behavior of seafarers who aspire to become SEALs and then serve in a more traditional role on a Navy ship are often very challenging," the affidavit reads.
Mays told investigators he was ready to take a polygraph test, after which he was arrested. Mays is said to have incriminated himself in the presence of two sailors who were described as master-at-arms, who, according to the arrest warrant, “heard Mays say (without being asked) that he was guilty and that he was apparently talking to himself”. He later denied ever having made the comments and denied involvement in the arson, claiming it was being "set up".
Investigators also dug into Mays' personal life and discovered several red flags. After investigators told investigators during an initial 10-hour interview that he recently broke up with a seaman when she found she was pregnant and he was not the father, "investigators later learned this from the concerned sailor was largely contradicted, "the warrant said.
This seaman told investigators that while Mays had gone around telling everyone she was pregnant and that he was "going to be a father," she had never been pregnant and had made it clear to him, even taking a pregnancy test to prove it .
It was not clear whether this series of events drove Mays to the alleged arson. NCIS investigators confiscated May's iPhone, ransacked his car and home, and dabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. So far, Mays ‘DNA was not comparable to the DNA found at the crime scene.
Last November, the Navy said it would scrap the Bonhomme Richard, given estimated repair costs of up to $ 3.2 billion. The ship cost about $ 750 million when it was built in 1998, or about $ 1.2 billion by today's standards. The investigation continues, according to the affidavit.
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