BonhommeRichardWorld News

USS Bonhomme Richard fire: Suspect identified as 20-year-old Navy sailor

image sourceUS Navy via Getty Images

image captionThe USS Bonhomme fire in 2020 took four days to put out

A 20-year-old US Navy sailor has been identified as the prime suspect charged with starting a fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard warship in 2020.

A newly unsealed search warrant shared by US media claims seaman Ryan Sawyer Mays had a grudge against the Navy. Mr Mays has denied any wrongdoing.

Three firefighting stations on the amphibious warship were also possibly sabotaged, according to the warrant.

The fire injured 40 sailors and 23 civilians in San Diego, California.

It began on 12 July 2020, and took four days to contain. The Navy has since decided to decommission and scrap the ship due to the damage.

The suspect – who is named in the warrant as Mr Mays but has not been identified by the Navy – faces charges of aggravated arson and wilfully putting a vessel at risk.

Mr Mays’ lawyer told the LA Times that the warrant is “just an affidavit” and said evidence could possibly prove it was not valid. He confirmed Mr Mays continues to deny the allegations.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service documents filed in court on Tuesday highlight suspicions that the crime scene was tampered with during the inquiry, in addition to the possible equipment sabotage.

In the early days of the inquiry, investigators discovered uncapped bottles containing small amounts of highly flammable liquid near where the blaze started. When they returned the following day, one of the bottles that had been set aside as evidence was gone.

The warrant noted that Mr Mays’ duty station had access to the area, and several sailors reported seeing him in the area before the fire.

During a walkthrough of the area, a Navy commander also noticed that three of four fire stations located aboard the ship “appeared to have been purposely tampered with”, with one rendered inoperable and another missing fire hoses.

Mr Mays was arrested following a ten-hour interview with investigators. He repeatedly denied starting the fire. When investigators said he had been spotted in the area before the blaze, Mr Mays suggested he was being setup, the warrant states.

Mr Mays enlisted in 2019. He joined a gruelling 24-week course designed to develop Navy Seals, but dropped out five days after training began. He was then reassigned to the USS Bonhomme Richard.

The search warrant alleges Mr Mays “showed disdain towards authority and the US Navy”.

The 40,000-ton, $1bn (£716m) USS Bonhomme Richard was commissioned in 1998 and was one of the few vessels from which an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could take off.

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