Sailor in critical condition after stabbing at Va. naval hospital

Suspect taken into custody without incident


June 07--PORTSMOUTH -- Police officers kicking in doors. Barricaded streets. Scared hospital patients, unsure what was happening and what to do.

A military policeman was stabbed and critically wounded Friday outside the Navy Exchange at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, prompting a lockdown of the base and an almost nine-hour manhunt.

The suspect, 26-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Garrett Harwell, was taken into custody without incident at about 5 p.m. in Virginia Beach, according to Capt. Michael "Jake" Johansson, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads. The FBI, Naval Criminal Investigative Services, and Virginia Beach Police apprehended him, a Beach police spokeswoman said.

The victim, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell, 25, was stabbed eight times in the chest and neck, family members said. A master-at-arms, he previously served with Coastal Riverine Squadron 4 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. He is married with an infant daughter and is stationed at the hospital while transitioning out of the Navy.

The Navy has not given any details about a possible motive, although Johansson said Harwell knew the victim.

The stabbing was reported at about 8:30 a.m., Johansson said. Shortly thereafter, military personnel started preventing people from entering or leaving the campus, believing that Harwell was still on base.

Powell's wife, Tina, said her husband was supposed to bring her a car seat at about 10 a.m.

When he didn't show up or call, she began to worry.

"I knew something was wrong," she said. "The lack of communication is so unlike him."

When she called the base trying to reach him, she said, she was told there was an emergency -- someone had been injured and her call couldn't be transferred.

"I freaked out, thinking it was him for some reason," she said. She called the emergency room, gave her husband's name and eventually spoke to a doctor. She headed to the hospital, where her husband spent most of the day in surgery.

Throughout the day, as crowds celebrated Norfolk's Harborfest on the other side of the Elizabeth River, federal, state and local police swarmed the base and surrounding neighborhoods.

Kristen Pease, a Virginia Beach EMT, said she and her 11-year-old son drove onto campus shortly before 9 a.m. for a doctor's appointment. They found themselves in a parking garage for five hours, watching the searchers comb the base.

"It was exhausting, more mentally than anything else. I kept looking over my shoulder," she said.

"They knew what they were doing, but we didn't know what we should be doing."

Joe Gomez of Suffolk was stuck outside Gate 2 while his wife and child were inside a conference room on the second floor of the hospital.

"They were really scared at first," Gomez said. "It was complete silence in the hallways and it was really eerie."

The hospital began letting patients and staff leave about 3 p.m., searching all vehicles as they departed.

It is unclear how Harwell got off the base and to Virginia Beach.

According to the Navy, Harwell is from Montgomery, Ala., enlisted in 2010 and served as an electronics technician. He is assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit, which serves sailors who are shifting from one command to another or are leaving the Navy.

Johansson would not say why Harwell was at the unit. A friend said he was in the process of leaving the military and had recently married another sailor.

"I can tell you that he had stuff going on... personal issues," said the friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He was going through a rough patch at this point."

Harwell was assigned to the frigate Elrod until November, then to the hospital, according to the Navy. He has been assigned to the TPU since Feb. 5.

His mother, Pamela Harwell, said she had not talked to her son for months and was not aware of the stabbing. Photos on his Facebook account show him drinking, goofing around and showing off his tattoos, including one in Russian on his chest that translates as, "I'm done with death."

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