The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu is seen moored at Subic Bay, Philippines, on Sept. 29, 2014, for Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 2015.

The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu is seen moored at Subic Bay, Philippines, on Sept. 29, 2014, for Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 2015. (Amanda R. Gray/U.S. Navy)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Navy has released four of the five ships held back in the Philippines following the killing of a transgender Filipina last weekend.

U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel J. Locklear ordered the ships held back after Philippine National Police identified Marine Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton as a suspect in the death.

The naked body of the victim, Jeffrey Laude, 26, also known as Jennifer, was found in a bathroom at the Celzone Lodge on Olongapo City. A witness reported her entering the hotel with a short-haired foreigner on Saturday night.

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Manila said she could not confirm that Pemberton was a suspect until formal charges were filed. However, the State Department has said that a servicemember, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., is being held onboard the USS Peleliu while the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Philippine police investigate.

The Peleliu was still being held in port Thursday, according to Col. Brad Bartelt, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific spokesperson.

“The USS Peleliu will remain in port at this time; personnel still actively involved in the investigation remain on board,” he said in a news release.

“The Marine Corps and Navy are cooperating fully with the Philippine authorities throughout the investigation, and will continue to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed and due process of law is followed,” he said.

Locklear has authorized the USS Germantown, USNS Washington Chambers, and the JHSV WestPac Express to depart Subic Bay, Bartelt said.

“These ships and the personnel on board are no longer a part of the investigation,” he said.

The USNS Sacagawea, one of the other ships that was held in port, was already underway Thursday along with two other ships that were in the Philippines at the time of the incident — the USS Stethem and USS Cape St. George, according to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific deputy public affairs director Chuck Little.

“They were not involved with this incident and have other taskings,” he said. “These three ships were in port in the Philippines for a brief time, and their crew remained onboard at all times. There were no USS Stethem, USS Cape St. George, or USNS Sacagawea crewmembers on liberty during this port visit to the Philippines.”

Check back for updates on this developing story. Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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