‘I won’t let his dying go in useless’

Recent out of highschool, Xavier Hunter Sandor radiated with delight as he enlisted within the Navy on Aug. 24, 2021. 

He beamed in his uniform, understanding his grandfather and uncle had additionally as soon as worn the identical costume blues. And he sailed by way of boot camp, shining brightest as a sharpshooter, his father stated.

Then he bought his orders. On Jan. 27, he left his household’s residence in Shelton, Connecticut, for the primary time to serve on the plane provider USS George Washington, because it underwent an in depth overhaul at a Virginia shipyard. He was onboard when he took his life three months later. 

Sandor was the third sailor on the ship to die by suicide in the span of a week this April, based on the Navy and the state chief health worker’s workplace. He had simply turned 19, stated his father, John Sandor. Sandor cherished being within the Navy, and so far as his father knew, solely the situations at work had been upsetting him.

“He was such a happy, proud person,” the elder Sandor stated. “What else could it be?”

Since 2017, the USS George Washington, one of many world’s largest warships, has been docked on the Newport Information Shipyard in Virginia, the place it’s present process a multiyear overhaul. Such an overhaul is finished as soon as throughout a provider’s 50-year service life, the Navy stated, and it contains vital repairs and upgrades, and the refueling of the ship’s two nuclear reactors.

Whereas a lot of the roughly 2,700 sailors go residence after their shifts, a whole lot who reside out of state or don’t have off-site housing keep on the George Washington. These onboard endure practically uninhabitable situations, together with fixed development noise that makes sleeping after lengthy shifts inconceivable and a scarcity of sizzling water and electrical energy, based on a number of sailors.

Sandor, a master-at-arms seaman recruit, was a type of who stayed. 

USS George Washington
The plane provider USS George Washington, within the East China Sea in 2012.Spc. Paul Kelly / U.S. Navy by way of Getty Photographs

When Sandor wasn’t working 12-hour night time shifts on the George Washington, he slept and stayed in his automobile, the place he stored a thick blanket and his garments, based on his father.

“Xavier was alone,” his father stated. “There wasn’t much to do there at his age. He’d go to his car and isolate himself.”

Throughout day by day telephone conversations along with his father from his automobile, Sandor often expressed frustration along with his residing and dealing situations.

“He always said it sucked, and I’d always say to ask for help,” John Sandor stated. “He’d say, ‘Dad, they don’t give a f—. They don’t care.’ That was always his response to me.”

Each different weekend, Sandor would drive eight hours again to his household’s residence and by no means need to depart when he bought there, his father stated. 

In a press release to NBC Information, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Myers, a Navy spokesman, stated a “certain number” of sailors have to remain on the ship to run important gear, keep hearth and flooding watches, and safe the vessel. The Navy has directed leaders on the ship to establish sailors who may benefit from morale and private well-being packages, Myers stated.

A number of present and former George Washington sailors have told NBC News that their struggles had been immediately associated to a tradition the place looking for assist is just not met with the mandatory assets, in addition to the situations aboard the ship.

John Sandor, 49, stated he knew the situations had been “bad” however to not the complete extent. It by no means crossed his thoughts that his son was contemplating suicide. 

“If I would have known that, I could have changed it somehow,” he stated. “That’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

On April 15, Xavier Sandor texted his family members goodbye, minutes earlier than his dying.

“His mother started screaming. I chased her down the hall,” John Sandor stated. “I can’t wrap my head around it. That that’s his only way out is just mind-baffling to me.”

On the time, John Sandor stated the Navy had not talked about something to his household in regards to the back-to-back suicides of two different shipmates simply days earlier than.

Sandor’s dying got here 5 days after Natasha Huffman, an inside communications electrician, died by suicide off-base in Hampton, officers stated. The day earlier than, Retail Companies Specialist third Class Mika’il Rayshawn Sharp additionally died by suicide off-base in Portsmouth, stated his mom, Natalie Jefferson. 

John Sandor stated he discovered of the opposite suicides by way of social media posts and information stories. “I’m sick to my stomach,” he said. “I haven’t slept. I don’t eat.”

Since Xavier Sandor’s death, the Navy said it sent a special 13-person psychiatric rapid intervention team to counsel those serving on the George Washington from April 16 to April 19. Sailors on the ship are currently being provided tele-mental health opportunities and expedited appointments for mental health referrals, according to the Navy. 

 John Sandor said they should have deployed those resources after the first suicide, which he said could have saved his son. He also said junior sailors should not have been put on the boat in those conditions. 

“He had such a future ahead of him,” he stated, including that his son was a born chief and athlete, and had been the quarterback of his highschool soccer crew. 

In a statement, the Navy said, in part, that it was a “resilient force,” but “not immune from the same challenges that affect the nation that we serve.” 

“We remain committed to ensuring our carriers are manned, trained and equipped to optimal levels including embedded mental health providers,” said Rear Adm. John F. Meier, the commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic. 

In a recent address to the George Washington crew, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith, the service’s senior enlisted leader, told crew members that he knew their working conditions during the overhaul were “not pleasant” or easy, and he acknowledged there was a suicide problem. 

“Beating suicide is like beating cancer,” he said, according to a transcript of the address, released Monday by the Navy. “There are many different causes, many different reasons.”

In 2020, the most recent year for which full data is available, 580 military members died by suicide, a 16 percent increase from 2019, when 498 died by suicide, according to the Defense Department. Nineteen out of every 100,000 sailors died by suicide in 2020, compared to members of the Army, which had the highest rate, at about 36 per 100,000, Pentagon statistics show.

Myers, the Navy spokesman, said a larger Navy team is being built to assess quality-of-life conditions on aircraft carriers undergoing overhauls. 

“Their recommendations will inform potential future action, identify areas for improvements, and propose mitigation strategies to optimize [quality of life],” he said.

When John Sandor thinks about all the memories he will no longer get with his son — a wedding, grandchildren — he breaks down into tears. When he regains his composure, though, he makes a pledge: “There’s going to be a time when my sadness turns to anger,” he said. “I won’t let his death go in vain.”

“Maybe his death can change the Navy,” he added. “If we could keep this from happening to another sailor’s family, that’s what I want to do.”

If you happen to or somebody is in disaster, name the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, textual content HOME to 741741 or go to for added assets.

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