Gunman in USS Mahan Attack Had Drugs in System, Records Show

The Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) departs Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled deployment, Nov. 19, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamie V. Cosby)
The Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) departs Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled deployment, Nov. 19, 2016. (U.S. Navy photo/Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamie V. Cosby)

NORFOLK -- Three years ago Friday, a civilian truck driver drove through a security checkpoint at Naval Station Norfolk, disarmed a guard aboard the destroyer USS Mahan and used her weapon to kill Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Mayo before being shot to death himself.

The late-night attack by Jeffrey Tyrone Savage, a 35-year-old convicted felon from Portsmouth, sent shock waves throughout the Navy and led to sweeping changes in security at the world's largest naval base.

What drove Savage's actions remains largely a mystery. But documents released under the Freedom of Information Act shed light on the killer's state of mind that night. They reveal that an autopsy performed on Savage found the psychoactive compound in marijuana in his system, and that those close to the gunman told investigators he may have had an undiagnosed mental illness.

FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service records provide the most detailed account yet of Savage's actions and mindset. They also reveal that Mayo, a 24-year-old master at arms who rushed to protect the female security guard after Savage took her weapon, wasn't wearing the required bulletproof vest when he was shot in the torso, head, arms, hands and left thigh.

"That was the ultimate sacrifice," Mayo's mother, Sharon Blair, said in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot. "I just keep saying he had to have been something awesome for him to know without a doubt, 'I don't have my vest on, but I'm going to jump in front of this young woman.' What an amazing young man. ... He did his job. I know God said, 'Well done, my faithful servant.' "

The chain of events on the night of March 24, 2014, began quietly.

Around 11 p.m., Savage's red 2002 Freightliner was waved onto base by a civilian police officer at Gate 5 off Hampton Boulevard who couldn't hear what the driver was saying over the rumble of the truck's engine and through a partially open window. Based on hand gestures, the officer thought Savage was going to make a U-turn, and he never asked for identification.

Instead, Savage drove to Pier 1 and parked his truck outside the gate. He was able to walk onto the pier without being stopped because the pedestrian gate was open and the sentry was busy replacing barrels at the vehicle entrance.

"What am I going to do, this is all my fault," the civilian officer at the main gate would later say, according to a redacted witness statement.

Those at the scene said Savage was acting strangely as he walked along the pier. They figured he was drunk.

The documents obtained by The Virginian-Pilot show that Savage had said about nine hours before driving to the base that he was going to start smoking marijuana. After he was killed, about 20 grams of a green leafy substance "presumed to be marijuana" was found in his pocket.

Mayo's mother said details about Savage's drug use raised more questions about why the gate guard didn't recognize that he was "stoned out" and didn't stop him from entering. The gate guard told investigators Savage was seated so high in the truck that he couldn't smell anything on him.

Blair also questions whether the sailor whose gun was taken and used against Mayo was really unable to disengage the safety, as she told investigators. Savage started shooting shortly after he took the semi-automatic handgun from her.

"He was that stoned and he took her weapon?" Blair asked. "And at what point was her safety taken off of her weapon? Did she do it? Did he do it? He was so stoned out he knew how to take a safety off her gun? It is heartbreaking because it's going on three years and we still don't have that closure."

Savage frequently smoked marijuana and -- to avoid failing company drug tests -- would use a synthetic version of it that made him "act crazy," according to witness statements given to criminal investigators.

In an interview with the FBI, someone close to Savage described him as a loner without any friends who suffered from financial stress, was delusional and could not face reality. The person said Savage would smoke marijuana only when he was employed, and it seemed to trigger an undiagnosed mental illness.

Savage had passed a drug test less than three weeks before the shooting and was starting to regularly pick up deliveries from Norfolk International Terminals next door to Naval Station Norfolk. His next scheduled pickup was at 6:30 a.m. the morning after the shooting.

Neither the criminal investigation nor one conducted by U.S. Fleet Forces Command was able to identify why Savage drove onto the base and walked onto the pier.

Savage knew one person in the Navy, who said she had seen him at family events over the past 10 years but was not close with him. Like all others in the documents, her name was redacted. The person described Savage as "weird" and was told by other family members that he "has always been that way."

The night before the shooting, a substance abuse counselor had come to Savage's home at the request of someone who lived there because he was acting strangely. The counselor and the other person left the home to speak in a vehicle about Savage's childhood and his father's suicide. When the pair returned, the counselor said, Savage kissed her and told her he loved her. The woman told an NCIS agent that Savage's "behavior was weird and he seemed very paranoid."

After the counselor left, the other person at the home said Savage began shouting and waving his hands to scare away a snake in a shed, investigative documents show. There was no snake. Out of concern, the person took her children and stayed at a friend's house that night.

When Savage arrived at Pier 1, he was wearing a teal and black stocking hat with "Virgin Islands" on it, a black thermal long-sleeved shirt and gray T-shirt, and blue jeans that were held up by a belt below his crotch, exposing his striped beige boxer shorts and Dickies thermal long john underwear. His apparel didn't strike anyone as unusual because the hospital ship USNS Comfort, which is crewed by civilian mariners, was moored across from the Mahan.

But he quickly caught the attention of others because of his unusual behavior.

"He looked confused and it looked like he had an internal conflict. The man was swinging his arms," a sailor working as a rover on Pier 1 that night told investigators.

By the time Savage was walking up the brow to the Mahan, Mayo -- leaving his bulletproof vest behind -- had jumped out of a still-rolling van to chase him on foot.

Mayo yelled at Savage, who turned around to face him. At that point, the petty officer of the watch drew her 9 mm gun and pointed it toward the deck. The gun's lanyard, which is intended to prevent it from falling overboard if dropped, was not attached.

Within seconds, Savage turned around and ran onto the ship.

"He got in my face and was yelling," the petty officer of the watch told investigators later. "I told him to get back. As I tried to step back he realized that I had my gun out. He suddenly yelled, 'Give me that gun!' He grabbed the gun with both hands. I heard from behind me to shoot him. I held on as best I could, but I couldn't get the gun angled up well enough to fire any shots."

A merchant mariner standing watch across the pier on the Comfort said it looked like three sailors tried in vain to pry Savage off the much smaller guard.

The woman was spun around 180 degrees toward the ship's lifelines from the force Savage used to take the gun from her. Mayo quickly pushed the woman behind a ship-mounted gun next to the lifelines and stepped between her and Savage.

Savage immediately starting firing less than three feet away from Mayo, who was hit multiple times. Mayo fired back, hitting Savage at least once. Savage continued firing at Mayo and appeared to be standing directly over him as his body hung over the ship's lifelines, with the petty officer of the watch underneath him, according to witness accounts. That was all the time a sailor whom Mayo was training and a topside rover needed to begin shooting at Savage.

It's unclear whether wearing the bulletproof vest would have saved Mayo's life, but Blair has struggled with the reality that she'll never know.

As chief of the guard, Mayo was in charge of security for the base's 14 piers. He was hailed as a selfless hero by the Navy's top leaders for saving the lives of countless others. The Hagerstown, Md., native was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the top honor a sailor can be awarded for noncombat action.

At a run taking place Saturday at Bold Mariner Brewing Co. to remember Mayo, Blair will be joined by Mayo's siblings, other relatives and friends. They're expected to share stories about Mayo to help people remember him as part of a celebration intended to begin identifying Norfolk and Mayo with something other than his death, which Blair refers to as his "Angel Day."

One of Blair's favorite memories involved her son giving her a rose and a teddy bear and taking her to Red Lobster on Valentine's Day after she had been stood up by her date. On the way to the restaurant, Mayo opted to play one of her favorites, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," instead of the rap music he usually listened to.

The last time she saw her son was at his grandmother's funeral, about a week before the shooting. After she gave him a kiss goodbye, she took a moment to pray in her car. That's when he stopped by one last time to make sure she called or texted him when she got home so he would know she was safe.

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