Father-in-law: Victim stabbed 8 times near Navy exchange

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The suspect in a stabbing near Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Friday morning has been taken into custody near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Portsmouth police said suspect Wilbur Garrett Harwell was arrested around 5 p.m. without incident at 26th Street and Pacific Avenue. He was located after a phone connected to the stabbing was pinged in the area.

Wilbur Harwell, photo courtesy U.S. Navy
Wilbur Harwell, photo courtesy U.S. Navy

“They came out with him, but he wasn’t like fighting or anything,” said Shana White, who works across the street from the Holiday Inn Express where witnesses say the suspect was taken by authorities. “There was a whole bunch of police cars, police canines right here.”

“There’s a whole bunch of cops coming up, and I look out over here to the door, and they basically apprehended him, arrested him, and put him in the back of the car,” said witness Joe Ross.

Documents: Affidavit and Criminal Complaint

A Navy spokesperson told WAVY.com Harwell would be interrogated, probably throughout the night.

Video: CO gives update on stabbing

Harwell, 26, is a 3rd class petty officer assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit in Norfolk who resided in the barracks at the Portsmouth Annex. Navy officials say he and the victim are active-duty Sailors who know each other. Family members of the victim say they were not close friends.

Navy officials have identified the victim as Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin D. Powell, 25, who joined the Navy in 2007. He is out of surgery, but remains in critical condition.

Powell’s father-in-law, Rodney Elston, told WAVY.com he was stabbed eight times, once in the throat. Doctors placed him in a coma for at least 12 hours and won’t know until Saturday if Powell’s voice box has been affected, according to Elston. He said Powell will likely be in the ICU for at least a week.

Justin Powell and wife (Photo courtesy Rodney Elston)
Justin Powell and wife (Photo courtesy Rodney Elston)

The stabbing happened around 8:30 a.m. at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads/Portsmouth Annex, which is in a separate building from the hospital. The attack took place in front of the Navy Exchange.

Jim Moir with the Navy said the victim was transported to the hospital with critical injuries. He had knife wounds to the chest and neck, and was undergoing surgery around noon, according to officials.

Harwell apparently fled the area immediately, because he didn’t get caught in a base-wide lockdown. And Navy officials are interested in learning how he escaped.

“I’m interested in hearing how he got off base and what time he got off base, and we’ll adjust our procedures accordingly, if we find that were falling short,” said Captain Jake Johansson, Commanding Officer NSA Hampton Roads after the nine-hour manhunt.

Photos: Stabbing at Navy exchange in Portsmouth

Captain Johansson said the Sailors got into a verbal altercation in front of the exchange that led to the stabbing. No information was available about what caused the altercation.

“Both victim and suspect being active-duty, we closed down the gate immediately and the hospital with a Code White, securing everybody in place,” Captain Johansson said.

A Code White could mean an active shooter situation or an armed suspect is in the area. In this case, it referred to an armed suspect. Staff were urged to report suspicious activity to 953-4220.

“We are doing a systematic, room-by-room, building-by-building search at this time, and the suspect remains at large,” Capt. Johansson said during press 12:15 p.m. press conference.

Initially, personnel inside the hospital were told to shelter in place. But around 3 p.m., the Naval Medical Center began systematically evacuating the clinics. Security was escorting everyone to their vehicles, patients first, followed by staff.

People were stuck on base for hours, waiting for the “all clear.” WAVY.com spoke with a mother who was stuck in a parking garage with her 11-year-old son from about 8:30 a.m. until about just after noon.

“It was very tense and we were kind of, we didn’t know what was going on,” said Kristen Pease. “I heard the MPs, their radios, they say don’t let anybody off. And then another MP said ,’do we know who it is? and I was like at that point something isn’t right.”

Click here to watch all of WAVY News’ coverage on the situation

Pease said they watched where police cars raced and saw FBI vehicles enter the base. Then they turned to the internet via their smart phones to see what media outlets could tell them.

“It’s been like three or four hours and were hungry, we can’t go anywhere and then the federal agent comes and say where are you parked, we’re all going to get in the elevator, we’re walking you to your car.”

Following the attack, the victim’s wife arrived at the Naval Medical Center and spoke with Capt. Johansson: “I have spoken to the wife of the victim, and she seems in as good as spirits as she could possibly be, and obviously, the navy is supporting her in every way possible.”

Elston, who has been in contact with his daughter over the phone, said she was very upset and in shock at the situation. The new mother is at the hospital with Powell and has taken some comfort in knowing the suspect is in custody, Elston said.

WAVY.com received a picture of doors barricaded by gurneys and other items inside the hospital.

Additionally, Parkview Elementary School was put on a full lockdown and I.C. Norcom High School was put on a partial lockdown. Both schools dismissed on time.

The stabbing comes just one day after the Naval Medical Center held an active shooter drill on the installation.

Stay with WAVY.com for more on this developing story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.