PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - The suspect in a stabbing near Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Friday morning appeared in federal court Monday afternoon.
Wilbur Garrett Harwell, Petty Officer 3rd Class, was taken into custody near the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Friday evening, more than 8 hours after almost killing a Sailor in another city. In court documents filed Monday, WAVY.com learned more about the attack.
Witnesses allegedly said Harwell stabbed Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell in the barracks next to the Navy Exchange. The two struggled and Powell was stabbed numerous times in the neck and abdomen. Witnesses say they tried to separate the two. One witness feared for safety and backed away.
“Harwell was holding a blade,” reads the complaint. “When the two were finally separated, Powell’s shirt and neck were covered with blood. Harwell fled. Powell was grabbing his throat and was helped out of the barracks. He was able to make it to the front of the Base Exchange, where he collapsed.”
Beth Baker, who is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Public Affairs Officer, said fire-rescue and EMS were called to the scene outside the Exchange Friday at 8:33 a.m. She said the perimeter of the base was on lockdown at 8:35 a.m., and the search for the suspect began. She could not provide an exact time of when the stabbing occurred.
But the big mystery of the investigation remains: how did Harwell get off base so quickly?
“We are investigating leads to the effect that he did have assistance,” said NCIS Special Agent Susan Tresch at a news conference Monday afternoon.
Supervisory Special Agent Frank Bruzzi added, “in reference to him being assisted, again that is part of the ongoing investigation that we are taking all that into consideration in reviewing video surveillance and so forth.”
Harwell was taken into custody around 5 p.m. The criminal complaint says, “a witness stated to NCIS Agents they engaged in a text message conversation with … Harwell … and spoke to him following the incident. Harwell stated … he stabbed the victim several times and thought the victim might die.”
Not only that, according to the criminal complaint, Powell identified Harwell too, “While waiting treatment … witnesses asked the victim if Harwell stabbed him and the victim nodded his head acknowledging ‘yes.’”
Harwell faces assault with intent to commit murder and assault with a dangerous weapon. He will be back in Norfolk Federal Court Thursday afternoon for a hearing to determine how much of his Navy salary will go towards his attorney. It is undetermined if the U.S. Attorney or the Navy will prosecute him.
Harwell, 26, is assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit in Norfolk and 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.