A 20-year-old sailor with a grudge against the US Navy and an unsuccessful attempt to become a Navy SEAL under his belt is accused of setting an amphibious assault ship on fire and costing $ 30 million alone dollars in damage to the Navy.
According to an NCIS search warrant affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast, Ryan Sawyer Mays aroused investigators’ suspicion almost immediately after the 40,000-ton theft USS Bonhomme Richard caught fire on July 12, 2020, burning for nearly five days and injuring dozens of people who helped put out the fierce blaze.
Mays, whose identity has not been disclosed before, now faces charges of arson in special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, use of fire to damage federal property and misrepresentation, indicates the mandate. If the Navy instead conducts a court martial, Mays will be charged with aggravated arson and willfully endangering a ship, a Navy spokesperson said. Mays does not have a lawyer listed in court records and could not be reached for comment.
The fire raged through the 14-decker ship after starting in a cargo hold, with temperatures on board sometimes exceeding 1,000 degrees, chief of naval operations Mike Gilday told reporters last summer. The fire on board the Bonhomme Richard, which was awaiting a $ 250 million upgrade at the time, was eventually tamed by some 400 sailors from 16 ships, with helicopters pouring water on the flames, the Naval Base Fire Department of San Diego and many civilian fire departments in surrounding cities.
Every deck above the waterline was damaged, and although no fatalities or serious injuries were reported, 71 people were injured or treated for smoke inhalation. At least 18 firefighters have filed workers’ compensation claims in the wake of the blaze, saying they were suffering from concussions, orthopedic problems and dehydration, among other things.
Mays was identified by NCIS investigators after interviewing some 177 Sailors assigned to the Bonhomme Richard. One of them said he saw a “light-skinned man” in a clean coveralls and face mask carrying a metal bucket in the Lower V – the aft section of the ship – but did not not recognized the person in question. But later, the sailor, named in the search warrant affidavit as Kenji Velasco, “mentioned a sailor named Mays who” hates “the United States Navy and the fleet,” the file says.
In other interviews, Velasco said he was “fairly sure” and “90% sure” that he saw Mays descend into Lower V before the fire broke out. He also noted that firefighting equipment in the area appeared to have been tampered with.
Velasco further explained that in the hours and days following the fire, he realized that the individual who descended into Lower V at 8:05 am on the day of the fire had the waist and Mays build, had blonde hair that you could see coming out of his blanket, like Mays, looked like Mays, and said, “I love the bridge,” which is an expression that Velasco knew Mays said, “the affidavit reads, adding that other sailors had also suggested to investigators that the person in question appeared to be Mays because of his clothing and language and that a command chief” identified Mays as a person who showed contempt for authority and the US Navy. “
Investigators looked into Mays’ now private Instagram account and found an article that read, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” the affidavit explains. Mays’ service record showed he joined the Navy in 2019 “with the intention of training in advanced electronics computing areas” and then “changed his career goals to become a Navy SEAL” . But five days after starting SEAL training, Mays dropped out and was reassigned to Bonhomme Richard as an “unnamed seaman”.
“According to Navy management, the morale and demeanor of sailors who had aspired to become a SEAL, and then found themselves serving in a more traditional role on a Navy vessel, is often very difficult,” the affidavit states. .
Mays told investigators he was ready to take a polygraph exam, after which he was arrested. Mays would then have incriminated himself in the presence of two sailors appointed by the captain of arms, who “heard Mays say (without being asked) that he was guilty, apparently speaking to himself”, according to the mandate. He later denied making the comments and denied any involvement in the arson, claiming he was being “trapped”.
Investigators also searched Mays’ personal life and discovered several red flags. After telling investigators in an initial 10-hour interview that he had recently separated from a female sailor after discovering that she was pregnant and that he was not the father, investigators ” learned later that this was mainly contradicted by the “sailor” in question, the warrant said.
This sailor told investigators that although Mays had told everyone she was pregnant and was “going to be a father,” she had never been pregnant and made it clear to him, even making a pregnancy test to prove it.
It was not clear whether this series of events was believed to have pushed Mays towards the alleged arson. NCIS investigators seized Mays’ iPhone, searched his car and apartment, and dabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. So far, Mays’ DNA has not matched the DNA found at the scene.
Last November, the Navy announced it would remove the Bonhomme Richard taking into account repair costs estimated at $ 3.2 billion. The ship cost about $ 750 million when it was built in 1998, or about $ 1.2 billion by current standards. The investigation, according to the affidavit, is ongoing.