Navy declines to discuss service history, disciplinary problems of sailor who fatally shot 2

Updated: Dec. 7, 2019 at 11:19 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days after a Navy sailor used his service weapons to fatally shoot two civilians at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and wounded a third before turning a gun on himself, military officials Friday refused to elaborate on why the service member was armed at a time when he was facing a disciplinary hearing.

Multiple sources have confirmed to Hawaii News Now that 22-year-old Gabriel Romero, of Texas, was having disciplinary problems at work and had previously been enrolled in anger management courses. Romero was also facing non-judicial punishment, a lower-level administrative process for minor, criminal misconduct.

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In a brief news conference Friday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, military officials again offered condolences to the victims and released a timeline of the shooting ― saying it all happened in just 23 seconds ― but refused to answer questions about Romero’s military history, or if processes were followed when Romero was assigned an armed watch.

“That’s all part of the investigation that’s going on right now,” said Robert Chadwick, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, in response to a question about Romero’s disciplinary problems.

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“I don’t have direct knowledge to the aspects of that, but every aspect of that is being looked at as well about the response and everything else. This is something we’re gonna be looking at at all angles.”

A short time later, the news conference was abruptly ended and news reporters were forced to pepper questions at a public information officer, who couldn’t answer them.

“The admiral said as much as he could say, based on the fact that the investigation is ongoing,” spokesman Chuck Anthony told the frustrated reporters.

Reporters pointed out that the police department takes away an officer’s gun if there are concerns about the officer’s safety and questioned if the military has such a procedure.

Again, that question was not answered.

The motive for the shooting remains under investigation, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Eli Miranda, of the senior executive service. Miranda said there is no indication the shooting was terrorism-related.

“This is an ongoing investigation and there’s a lot of questions yet to be answered,” he said. “The shooter appears to have acted alone (and was) not motivated by any particular ideology.”

HNN has confirmed that 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.

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

The lingering questions about the shooting ― and whether it was preventable ― come as families mourn those lost.

One of those who died ― 30-year-old 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.

Officials said Kapoi, of Honolulu, was a metals inspector apprentice at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

The second victim who died — Ewa Beach resident Roldan Agustin, 49 — served as a shop planner in nondestructive testing at Pearl Harbor.

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

Romero was assigned to the USS Columbia, submarine home ported at Pearl Harbor and that is undergoing drydock repairs. On the vessel, he was a machinist’s mate auxiliary fireman.

Sources have told HNN 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, who 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 told Hawaii News Now. "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 has repeatedly asked the Navy why Romero was provided access to weapons and still assigned to guard the USS Columbia. Navy officials refused to answer those questions directly instead citing the investigation.

On Friday, non-essential workers at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard returned to work.

And on Saturday, thousands will descend on Pearl Harbor to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese bombing that propelled the United States into World War II.

This story will be updated.

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