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Butler County sailor critically stabbed at naval base

| Friday, June 6, 2014, 9:40 p.m.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A 25-year-old Buffalo Township native was in critical condition on Friday, having been stabbed repeatedly by a fellow sailor near a naval hospital in Virginia, naval authorities said.

Officials said Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell was stabbed in his chest and neck. He remained in critical condition after surgery at the naval hospital.

Powell is a 2007 graduate of Freeport Area High School.

Capt. Michael “Jake” Johansson said Powell's wife, Tina, was at the hospital during the surgery and that his parents, Michael and Pamela Powell, were driving from Pennsylvania to be with him. Attempts to reach his family were not successful.

Justin and Tina Powell have a baby girl who is less than 6 months old, according to what appears to be Tina Powell's Facebook page.

Powell was reported to be out of surgery but remained in critical condition, Powell's father-in-law, Rodney Elston, told WAVY.com, a television station in Portsmouth.

Elston said Powell was stabbed eight times, including once in the throat.

Powell was put into a coma for at least 12 hours, and doctors said they wouldn't know until Saturday whether his voice box was injured, according to Elston.

He said Powell will likely be in the intensive care unit for at least a week.

Suspect nabbed in manhunt

The suspect, Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Harwell, was arrested Friday, ending an hourslong manhunt, according to the Navy.

Harwell got into a morning argument with Powell outside the Navy Exchange at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Portsmouth Annex, the Navy said.

Harwell was apprehended later in nearby Virginia Beach, according to Johansson, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads. It wasn't immediately clear when Harwell, 26, left the installation or how he did so.

Johansson said the facility was placed on lockdown as soon as officials learned about the stabbing.

The installation where the stabbing occurred is home to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and sits near a residential area on the Elizabeth River, where thousands of people had gathered across the river in downtown Norfolk to watch a parade of ships as part of the annual Harborfest festival.

Security forces went door to door at the locked-down facility in search of the suspect. The Navy said Harwell was assigned to the Transient Personnel Unit in Norfolk and lived in a barracks on the Portsmouth installation. Transient personnel units serve sailors moving from one command to another as well as those who are about to leave the Navy, said Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokesman Jim Moir. Moir said he did not know which of those categories Harwell belonged to.

“I'd like everybody to keep their thoughts and prayers with the Powell family through the next few days,” Johansson said. “Good thoughts are warranted for this weekend.”

The two men knew each other, Johansson said, although he added that he wasn't sure exactly what their relationship was before the altercation. Officials haven't determined a motive, Johansson said. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is conducting the investigation.

Active shooter drill was held Thursday

The manhunt occurred a day after Naval Medical Center Portsmouth practiced an active-shooter drill as part of routine training.

“It was fortuitous in that pretty much everybody that was at the exercise yesterday, by face showed up today, so it was nice to have that collaboration,” Johansson said about the military and civilian responders.

The stabbing follows incidents this year that prompted the Navy to place bases on lockdown in the Hampton Roads area.

In March, a civilian truck driver with a criminal record shot and killed Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo aboard the USS Mahan, a destroyer. The base, the largest naval base in the world, was briefly put on lockdown.

Trucker Jeffrey Tyrone Savage was later shot and killed by Navy personnel in a shootout aboard the ship.

As a result of that incident, more stringent rules were put in place to deny access to bases on the East Coast to transportation workers because of their criminal histories.

In April, a sailor was found dead in his barracks at the Portsmouth Annex. The grounds to the Portsmouth base were temporarily locked down as a precaution.

Trib Total Media staff writers Mary Ann Thomas and Liz Hayes and WAVY.com contributed to this report.

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