Navy SEAL Dropout Main Suspect in Bonhomme Richard Fire, Sabotaged Fire Equipment

August 4, 2021Noelle Wiehe
Navy Warship Destruction

Sailors combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego, California, July 13, 2020. US Navy (US NAVY Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Hector Carrera)

According to a federal search warrant that led to arson charges against a sailor in the Bonhomme Richard fire, a 19-year-old who had dropped out of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training set the fire because he “hated the US Navy and the Fleet” and sabotaged firefighting equipment on board the ship before starting the blaze. 

The Navy charged Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays on Thursday with aggravated arson and hazarding of a vessel in connection with the fire that forced the Navy to scrap the assault ship, according to USNI News. Mays also faces charges of making a false statement, according to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service search warrant affidavit

A search warrant in the case was unsealed Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of California.

bonhomme richard suspect Ryan Mays navy seal dropout
Navy Seaman Ryan Mays shared this photo to his Instagram from San Diego, California. Investigators suspect that Mays set the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard. Photo courtesy of US Navy /Scribd.

According to The Daily Beast, Mays joined the Navy in 2019 to become a Navy SEAL. However, he dropped out of the training after five days and was reassigned to the Bonhomme Richard as an “undesignated Seaman.” A statement from Cmdr. Sean Robertson, US 3rd Fleet spokesperson, did not name the sailor but confirmed it was a member of the crew who is accused.

The search warrant says Mays’ morale had declined after leaving BUD/S training, which a Navy official told investigators is common among SEAL dropouts. “The morale and behavior of sailors who had aspired to become a SEAL, and then find themselves serving in a more traditional role on a Navy ship, are frequently very challenging,” the affidavit quotes a Navy official as telling investigators.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, NCIS found evidence of sabotage of the firefighting equipment on board the ship before the fire on July 12, 2020. The evidence from the crime scene was also tampered with in the days following the incident, the Navy said.

Naval ship aflame
The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard sits pierside as damage control efforts continue aboard the ship, July 27, 2020. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jessica Hale, courtesy of DVIDS.

Mays’ lawyer, Gary Barthel, told the Union-Tribune he had not yet reviewed the evidence. “The warrant is just an affidavit from an (NCIS) agent,” Barthel said. “It’s always possible the evidence will show this warrant was not valid.”

According to the affidavit, NCIS investigators interviewed more than 170 sailors assigned to the vessel before identifying Mays as a prime suspect in the Bonhomme Richard fire. On the day of the fire, investigators say, a sailor saw a light-skin male (Mays is white) in clean overalls and a face mask carrying a bucket to a lower deck of the ship. The witness, named in the search warrant as Kenji Velasco, “did mention a sailor named MAYS that ‘hates’ the U.S. Navy and the Fleet.”

bonhomme richard fire
Sailors and San Diego firefighters support damage control efforts July 15, 2020, at Naval Base San Diego following a fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard.

The affidavit states Mays was asked how he felt when he learned about the fire. Mays said he felt a “small amount of adrenaline and anxiety.” He also stated in his questionnaire that he had taken a picture of the fire with his cell phone.

The Bonhomme Richard was ablaze for four days. The Navy announced in April that the fire had damaged the ship beyond repair and that it would be decommissioned, becoming the fourth Navy ship forced to retire from the fleet due to damage since 2000.

Read Next: Sailor Charged in Fire That Destroyed USS Bonhomme Richard


Noelle Wiehe
Noelle Wiehe

Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.

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