Guns pulled at drydock, as Pearl Harbor shipyard gets back to work after murder-suicide

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — We now know it took just 23 seconds for a U.S. Navy sailor to shoot and kill two Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard workers, wound a third, and then kill himself.

Always Investigating found out that other sailors serving on the topside of the U.S.S. Columbia submarine have been disarmed at the dry dock as a precaution. Investigators are looking into what led the shooter to commit murder-suicide. The shipyard unions say more safety changes will be needed.

Vincent Kapoi Jr., 30, a metals inspector apprentice, and Roldan Agustin, 49, a shop planner and nondestructive testing inspector, were killed. A 36-year-old man is in stable condition at the hospital.

Military officials identified the shooter as Gabriel Antonio Romero of Texas, a machinist’s mate auxiliary fireman assigned to the U.S.S. Columbia. Romero was assigned as a watchstander for the dry docked submarine when he opened fire on Wednesday at 2:15 p.m.

“There is no known motive at this time, there is no information to suggest there are other threats to this installation,” said Norman Dominesey, NCIS special agent in charge, at a press conference with other federal and local authorities Friday morning. “There’s no information that this incident has any ties to domestic terrorism.”

The crime scene examination remains ongoing.

“Multiple items of evidentiary value have been collected from the scene, the subject’s vehicle and the subject’s barracks room,” Dominesey said. “Forensic examination of the various electronic media belonging to the subject has started an effort to determine a motive if possible.”

“This act does not appear to have been motivated by any particular ideology,” said Sam Miranda, FBI special agent in charge for the Honolulu office. “At this stage of the investigation it appears to be an isolated incident and that the shooter appears to have acted alone.”

As to the shooter’s state of mind, and if he had troubles before the incident that could have led him to commit the atrocity or could have been red flags to remove him from a duty involving weapons:

“We are always committed to providing support to our sailors when they’re having problem,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick, “and again all of that is going to be coming out as part of the investigation in terms of what was involved here.”

Always Investigating asked: Have additional security measures been put into place since Wednesday, especially with all the shipyard workers back to work after nonessential staff was told to stay home Thursday; what has changed as of today for everyone’s additional safety?

“We are always evaluating the security situation. On a daily basis we have very robust security,” Chadwick said. “At this point obviously standard procedures, standard vigilance that we always have, and again we are focused on in addition to normal security procedures providing the support needed to shipyard workers especially who are coming back to work today.”

The federal and local officials quickly exited the press conference after just a handful of questions. Reporters pressed on with a public information officer still present.

Always Investigating asked: Have any other servicemembers’ who are watchstanders had weapons taken away since the incident?

“The FBI said that it’s a standalone issue,” said Charles Anthony, spokesperson for Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam.

According to shipyard union officials who attended back-to-work briefings Friday morning, a preventive measure has been taken on the USS Columbia in the dry dock area.

“The guns for everybody else that was involved in topside watch on that boat, immediately they were put off to the side, guns taken,” explained Jeffrey Phillip, president of the Hawaii Federal Employee Metal Trade Council. “They are making sure nobody else is suffering the same whatever happened with this sailor, whatever the sailor went through that caused him to act this way. It was more or less I think damage control on the boat or keeping it from getting out of hand even more.”

“From what we understand from the briefs yes they have put measures in place to make sure that the boat that had the topside watch, all the guns have been taken from the topside watch so they are making sure that this doesn’t happen for that boat immediately, that boat has been shut down for now,” Phillip said.

KHON2 asked, to his knowledge in this particular case, is there anything the union knows of in which a red flag had been raised?

“No, I don’t know,” Phillip said. “From what I understand it was completely random.”

Jamie Hiranaka, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 121 which is one of 10 unions representing shipyard workers, told Always Investigating: “We’re relying on the navy to make some changes for sure, process changes to make sure that we feel safe at work. Every worker deserves to feel safe and come home to their families.”

KHON2 followed up on red flags and an FBI spokesperson told Always Investigating: “We had received no prior reporting on this individual prior to the shooting. We had not received any complaints or any information before the incident.”

In Hawaii, Romero had a couple of speeding tickets but no criminal record. In order to be on active duty on a submarine after training, Romero had to have passed what’s called SUBSCREEN, a test measuring submariners on specific traits that may be incompatible with service in on a sub such as anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts.

“If a potential Submariner exceeds one or more of the test’s referral thresholds, that individual is referred for an interview with a mental health clinician. The mental health clinician uses the results of the test and their interview to ensure the proper level of care is provided to the individual, as indicated,” Anthony explained. “A recommendation will then be made to keep the Submariner in training, refer them to Naval Service other than in the Submarine Force, or separate them from the Navy.”

KHON2 asked Anthony how many other suicides there been in the past year or two on the USS Columbia or among its crew.

“As far as we know, none,” Anthony said. “That particular story was out there. There are also a lot of rumors out there, too. Pretty much every fact that we’re able to release at this time has been released. There have been a number of things that have not been entirely accurate.”

Asked to clarify if it is inaccurate to say that Romero was identified at-risk, Anthony said: “That’s part of the investigation, we can’t talk about that today.”

Asked why Romero was allowed to have guns if he was having any signs of trouble or had any disciplinary issues, Chadwick responded: “that’s all part of the investigation that’s going on right now. I don’t have direct knowledge to the aspects of that but every aspect of that is being looked at as well as about the response and everything else. This is something that we’re going to be looking at from all angles and is certainly one of the things we’re going to be looking at.”

KHON2 asked the union official if there are ample avenues at the shipyard should a worker feel threatened, whether it’s a colleague at the shipyard or elsewhere on a ship that’s not under the shipyard’s command?

“Yes, we have those things in place,” Phillip said, “However they will be taken a look at and see how we can improve those types of programs when people need help and need to go talk to somebody. Obviously we need to do a better job when somebody is under distress.”

“Mostly everybody is just doing their best to heal and support each other, get people to the right sources they need, counseling, psychological help if they need it,” Phillip said. As of how the workers were doing at the morning briefing before getting back to work, Phillip said: “A lot of people are confused. They want to understand what processes led to this and what we can improve.”

“A lot of people are still healing, a lot of people they’re still processing it,” Phillip said, “so from my personal observation I would say a lot of people are going through grief right now and I’m sure that the anger will be coming.”

“I think today is just about getting briefings and letting everybody know that there’s counseling, places to go, supervisors are here for you, the union is here for you, trying to get back into the mode of feeling safe at work,” Hiranaka said. “We as a union hope there are going to be measures that we can see in place, changes made.”

Friday morning another shooting took place on a Navy base, this time in Pensacola, FL. In that case, authorities say the deceased shooter was a foreign military officer on site for training from Saudi Arabia.

“I think a lot of people are talking about the Pensacola incident because it’s another Navy base,” Hiranaka said, “but the briefings today are trying to assure everybody that measures are being put in place. We’re still in a state of shock ourselves so getting back to work in itself is hard right now.”

KHON2 will follow-up as more details of the investigation unfold. The shipyard workers unions meanwhile have come together in support of the families the survivor and say they will let the public know soon how to contribute to those causes or send condolences for memorials.

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