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9th Navy sailor assigned to coastal Virginia dies by suicide in little over a year

The Hill logo The Hill 3/31/2023 Ellen Mitchell
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A Navy sailor assigned to a submarine in Newport News, Va., died by suicide earlier this week, the ninth such death in the service in a little over a year, according to the region’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. 

Electronics Technician Navigation 3rd Class Devon Faehnrich, assigned to the USS Montana, was found Monday on the pier next to the submarine at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of the Huntington Ingalls Industries, and later pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. 

Faehnrich was found to have died from a gunshot wound to the head, Donna Price, spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told The Hill on Friday.  

The sailor, who was originally from Colorado, enlisted in the Navy in April 2021, completing boot camp and submarine training in March 2022 and reporting to the Montana in the same month, according to his service record. 

The submarine had been at Newport News Shipbuilding for some work since January, according to company spokesman Todd Corillo, who declined to comment on Faehnrich’s death on the defense contractor’s property.  

“Out of respect for our customer and to protect the privacy of military families, Newport News Shipbuilding does not discuss deaths of our U.S. Navy teammates with the exception of a workplace accident,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “Our condolences go out to the sailor’s family and friends, and our shipbuilders, during this time of loss.” 

Faehnrich’s death is the latest in a series of suicides among sailors in maintenance or assigned to shore duty in the Navy, with many assigned to stay on ships going through repairs. 

Last year there was a string of seven deaths, with at least four ruled as suicides, among sailors assigned to the USS George Washington — including three deaths within a week of each other in April — as the ship was undergoing its mid-life refueling and overhaul. 

And in November, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., held a two-day suicide prevention stand-down after three sailors all assigned to the center died in the span of less than a month. A fourth sailor was found dead 10 days after the standdown ended. 

Another sailor stationed on the George Washington died by suicide in a residence in January. 

The deaths have brought new public scrutiny on the living conditions of sailors stuck aboard ships for months at a time and limitations within the military’s mental health system. 

A report focused on such quality-of-life issues is expected later this year.  

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