Portsmouth police are on a manhunt for a Navy sailor, still at large, who is suspected in the stabbing of a fellow service member multiple times at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center in Virginia on Friday morning, causing the facility to be placed under lockdown. Authorities believe a heated exchange between the two that took place outside of the Navy Exchange at the base is what led to the stabbing, which was reported at 8:30 a.m. The men are acquaintances.
The alleged attacker has been identified as petty officer third class Wilbur Garrett Harwell, 26, an electronics technician who was stationed on February 5th in the unit of the Navy charged with serving those sailors who are in process of moving from one station to another or those who are about to end their Navy careers, through retirement or other reasons. He had been stationed on the frigate Elrod up to November of last year, at which point he was moved to the hospital. Authorities at the federal, state and local levels are searching for Harwell, who remains at large. Police have been spotted in the area clearing locations and kicking in doors.
Naval personnel have been instructed to maintain their positions at the Naval Support Activity-Portsmouth Annex while the search for Harwell is undergoing, according to Capt. Michael “Jake” Johansson, the commanding officer of the Portsmouth facility. Many people remain in the facility, including some who were in their cars when the lockdown was announced and the gates were closed. In addition, unless a life-threatening situation exists, the hospital, which was the country’s first naval medical center, is turning away all other patients and canceling scheduled procedures. It is not yet known whether Harwell has left the campus.
Traffic is being diverted around the base and nearby schools are in lockdown. The building outside of which the stabbing occurred, the Navy Exchange, is a separate building from the base hospital. Just yesterday, an active-shooter emergency drill was conducted on the base.
Harwell’s mother, Pamela Harwell, has stated that she has not spoken to her son in months.
According to officials, the victim of the attack was stabbed in the neck and the chest and is currently undergoing surgery in critical condition. His wife is on base with him.
Less than two months ago, the hospital’s building No. 3 was locked down after a suspicious package was found and a bomb threat was reported. After evacuating two of the facility’s buildings, it was determined that the package was simply unattended luggage.
The stabbing today comes after increased scrutiny of Navy facility security in the wake of the March murder of a petty officer at the Norfolk Naval Station, in which a civilian gained unauthorized access to the base and disarmed a watchman on board the destroyer Mahan. Three months before the Norfolk killing, 12 people were murdered by a contractor at the Washington Navy Yard.
Wilbur Harwell, from Montgomery, Ala., is described as 5-foot-8, white, and wearing a white shirt with tan cargo pants and blue sneakers. He has blue eyes, blond hair, and several tattoos and has been enlisted in the Navy since 2010. Residents who spot the alleged attacker should call their local police or base security at 757-953-5225.
By Jennifer Pfalz