Suspect in Virginia Naval base stabbing arrested after manhunt

Wilbur Harwell


By CINDY CLAYTON AND KARA DRISCOLL | The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot | Published: June 7, 2014

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A sailor suspected by police of stabbing another service member Friday morning multiple times outside the Navy Exchange at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center has been arrested .

Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Garrett Harwell, 26, was taken into custody without incident in Virginia Beach, said Capt. Michael “Jake” Johansson, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads.

Federal, state and local authorities had been looking for Harwell since shortly after the 8:30 a.m. stabbing, which prompted a lockdown of the hospital campus. It is unclear how Harwell got off the base and to Virginia Beach.

“We locked down the base as a soon as a we knew there was a stabbing incident,” Johansson said.

The stabbing victim, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell, was in critical condition about 5:45 p.m., Johansson said. Powell was out of surgery, his wife was on base and his parents were on their way here from Pennsylvania.

According to the Navy, Harwell served as an electronics technician. He was assigned to the transient personnel unit, which serves sailors shifting from one command to another or who are about to leave the Navy. A friend said Harwell was in the process of leaving the Navy.

Johansson said Harwell stabbed Powell multiple times in the chest and neck after an argument. He said the two men knew each other.

The hospital began letting patients and staff leave about 3 p.m., after law enforcement searched their vehicles.

Harwell was assigned to the frigate Elrod until November, then to the hospital, according to biographical information provided by the Navy. He has been assigned to the TPU since Feb. 5.

Harwell is from Montgomery, Alabama. According to his two Facebook pages, he studied at Opelika High School and Trenholm State Technical College. He has been in the Navy since 2010. One page says he lives in Norfolk, the other says Virginia Beach.

Pamela Harwell, Wilbur Harwell’s mother, said she had not talked to her son for months and was not aware of the stabbing.

The lockdown inconvenienced and scared many. Officers were seen kicking in doors to search some rooms.

Right after the incident occurred, Parkview Elementary School was on full lockdown, said police spokeswoman Detective Misty Holley.

Traffic was being diverted from Effingham Street, away from the main gate to the base, Holley said. Officers were staged at London Boulevard and Green Street. Virginia State Police troopers were being asked to help with traffic control.

The Navy Exchange is located in a separate building outside the hospital. On Thursday, base personnel practiced responding to such emergencies during an active-shooter drill.

The stabbing this morning came less than two months after reports of a bomb threat and a suspicious package in the food court of the hospital’s building No. 3 prompted a lockdown.

Patients and staff were evacuated from two buildings. The package later was determined to be luggage that had been left unattended.

Security at Navy facilities became a nationwide concern after the shooting at Norfolk Naval Station in March after a petty officer was killed by a civilian with a Transportation Worker Identification Credential who gained access to the base and disarmed an officer of the watch on board the destroyer Mahan.

That incident came about three months after a contractor with a common access card killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.