Navy sailor who killed 2 at Pearl Harbor shipyard was unhappy with commanders

Published: Dec. 6, 2019 at 10:40 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Navy sailor who fatally shot two at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard on Wednesday and wounded a third was having disciplinary problems at work and had been enrolled in anger management courses, multiple sources confirm to HNN.

The sailor was identified as 22-year-old Gabriel Romero.

A military official also told the Associated Press on Friday that Romero was unhappy with his commanders and was going through counseling. Romero was facing non-judicial punishment, a lower-level administrative process for minor misconduct.

Romero used his service weapons ― an M4 rifle and an M9 pistol ― in the shooting and on Wednesday had been assigned to stand watch at a submarine undergoing repairs.

The multiple sources, who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, expressed concern Romero had been assigned an armed position at the shipyard despite his history of problems.

Romero fatally shot two men at the shipyard and injured a third with the rifle, before shooting himself with the pistol.

One of those who died, Vincent Kapoi, Jr., was remembered Thursday as a fun loving son, brother, husband, and uncle. “What we must do is honor his memory,” his sister, Theona Kapoi, said.

Family members have identified the second victim who died as Roldan Agustin.

The third gunshot victim, a 36-year-old man, is in stable condition at the Queen’s Medical Center.

Hawaii News Now has learned that Romero was up for a captain’s mast, a military criminal proceeding that is below a court martial.

Retired Army Col. Gregory Gross was the presiding judge over part of the court martial for Nidal Hasan, killed 13 people and wounded 31 others at Fort Hood in Texas in November 2009.

Gross said it is important to know why Romero was being disciplined and why he had taken anger management classes before determining if he should have been allowed an armed watch.

“If it’s something minor and he was going to anger management then you would have to say he’s not a danger to anybody," Gross said. "But yes, it could be significant though. If he had significant health problems and was given a weapon.”

Romero had injuries from punching equipment, including lockers, the multiple sources confirmed.

Hawaii News Now did reach out to the Navy several times on Thursday to ask officials why Romero was provided access to weapons and still assigned to guard the USS Columbia. There was no response.

The shooting at drydock 2 threw a tight-knit community into mourning, and brought operations at the shipyard to a virtual standstill. Non-essential employees are being told to return to work Friday.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone involved,” said Rear Admiral Robert Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii. “This is certainly a tragedy for everyone here.”

He said it wasn’t immediately clear whether Romero knew the victims ― all shipyard employees ― or if the three were targeted at random. He also didn’t have details about the gunman’s possible motive.

In a message sent to shipyard employees, Shipyard Commander Capt. Greg Burton expressed his condolences to the victims’ families.

“I know that no words will convey the full measure of sorrow from today’s tragedy," he said.

Family members and shipyard employees impacted by the tragedy are being offered counseling and crisis services. “Looking ahead, we will honor the life and legacy of those lost," Burton said.

“Even now, as we mourn the loss of members of our ‘ohana, please take the opportunity to reconnect with each other and to reinforce and strengthen the bonds with each other.”

The shooting comes just days before thousands descend on Pearl Harbor to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese bombing that propelled the United States into World War II.

Former state adjutant Gen. Robert Lee offered his thoughts Thursday to the victims and their families.

“You’re never thinking when you go the shipyard that you might not come home," he said. “So this is a terrible event and my condolences go out to the victims’ families.”

First responders were called to the base about 2:30 p.m.

In the minutes after the shooting, base personnel were urged over a PA system and with text messages to shelter in place.

A lockdown that was put in place after the shooting was lifted about 4 p.m.

Chadwick confirmed that officials have launched a full investigation and at least 100 witnesses were being interviewed.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service — or NCIS — has taken the lead. However, Honolulu police detectives and the city Medical Examiner’s Office also responded.

On Thursday morning, the White House said President Donald Trump was keeping a close eye on the situation. However, he has not yet publicly commented.

[Read more: ’Senseless act’: Leaders react to deadly Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting]

Gov. David Ige said the White House has offered assistance in the wake of the shooting.

“I join in solidarity with the people of Hawaii as we express our heartbreak over this tragedy and concern for those affected by the shooting,” Ige said, in a statement.

The shooting broke the calm of what was otherwise an uneventful day at the shipyard.

One witness said he was at his desk when he heard loud pops.

“I kind of recognize that as gunshots,” he said. “I looked out the window, saw three people on the ground. I looked out in time to see the shooter ... shoot himself.”

Alex Ojeda and Will Churchhill reported to their first day at work on base Wednesday when the active shooter situation started.

“We were actually on our way out,” Ojeda said. “We didn’t expect that at all.”

One member of the military said he was getting a haircut when his cell phone blew up with text messages. “We got a bunch of texts from on the ship and on the barge letting us know there’s an active shooter alert,” the service member said.

The shooting at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam triggered panic for those who live or work in the area.

Traffic near the base and on Nimitz Highway was heavy, and officials urged those headed to the airport to allow for extra travel time.

The USS Columbia submarine, which Romero was assigned to, is undergoing repairs at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard ― its homeport. The 360-foot-long, 6,000-ton submarine was commissioned in 1995.

It has a crew of about 150, which often conducts operations across the Pacific.

The Navy says it’s one of the most modern subs in the world, capable of long-range Tomahawk strike operations, anti-submarine operations, as well as surveillance and intelligence gathering.

This story will be updated.

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