At least two of the three Navy shipmates found dead in Virginia in less than a week died by suicide, including a 23-year-old newlywed who “never showed his pain,” family members and officials said Wednesday.
Retail Services Specialist 3rd Class Mika’il Rayshawn Sharp died by suicide off-base in Portsmouth on April 9, said his mother, Natalie Jefferson.
Sharp, 23, joined the Navy about two years ago, following in the footsteps of several relatives, including a great-grandfather. He had just gotten married last year and had plans to buy a house and start having children with his wife, whom he was “over the moon” about, said Jefferson, 43.
“He was the life of the party,” Jefferson said, adding that it never dawned on her that her son was struggling. “I would have never thought that it would hit so close to home like this.”
On April 10, Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Natasha Huffman was found dead off-base in Hampton, the Navy said. The state chief medical examiner’s office confirmed Wednesday that the cause of death was suicide.
Five days after Huffman’s death, a sailor was found unresponsive aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, where they all served, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers said in a statement. The sailor’s identity and cause of death haven’t been released.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and local authorities are investigating all three deaths, the Navy said. It offered no additional comment Wednesday following confirmations of both suicides.
The news comes less than three years after similar back-to-back Navy suicides. In 2019, three sailors who served on the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier, died by suicide within a week in separate instances off-base, the Navy said at the time.
In 2020, the most recent year for which full data are available, 580 military members died by suicide, a 16 percent increase from 2019, when 498 died by suicide, according to the Defense Department.
The Pentagon said it didn’t see a statistical change in suicide rates from 2020 to 2019 or 2018 that would indicate a Covid-19-related increase.
"No two individuals are identical, and no two life experiences are identical," Army Maj. Gen. Clement S. Coward said in the 2020 report. "So we are working to address a range of risk factors and enhance protective factors for members of our Armed Forces.”
In 2020, 19 out of every 100,000 sailors died by suicide compared to members of the Army, who had the highest rate, at about 36 per 100,000, Pentagon statistics show.
Jefferson, who lived with Sharp in Norfolk, Virginia, said she didn’t think she had any reason to worry about her son’s mental health. When he wasn’t dancing, playing pool or holding his beloved dog, Sharp loved being in the Navy and learned a lot from his service, his mother said. He had proposed to his girlfriend as soon as he got home from boot camp with an engagement ring his mother helped him pick out.
Jefferson said her son must have hidden his struggles every day he came home from work. “He never showed his pain,” she said.
But she wishes he had. Jefferson urged other military members to seek out help, whether from family and friends, other shipmates or military resources.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to anybody,” she said, “because the last thing any parent wants to do is bury their child.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.