‘Bipolar’ SEAL training dropout Ryan Mays accused of torching USS Bonhomme Richard

The US Navy sailor accused of setting the fire that destroyed the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard had dropped out of SEAL training after just five days and was described by a former girlfriend as being “bipolar,” court documents from the early stages of the investigation have revealed.

Ryan Mays, 20, is charged by the military with aggravated arson and the willful hazarding of a vessel in connection with the blaze, which burned for four days in July of last year and injured more than 60 sailors and civilians.

A fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020.
A fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020.

A 38-page search warrant affidavit — filed in US District Court in San Diego this past September and unsealed Tuesday — detailed the early days of the probe into the fire, including interviews with Mays. The document was initially obtained by The Daily Beast.

According to the affidavit, Mays initially joined the Navy in 2019 to become trained in the service’s Advanced Electronics/Computer Field. However, Mays later decided to become a Navy SEAL and enrolled in Basic Underwater Demolition training.

Ryan Mays, the former Navy SEAL trainee, who is accused of starting the fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Ryan Mays is accused of starting the fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard.

Mays pulled out of SEAL training after five days in October 2019 and was reassigned to the Bonhomme Richard. The document makes a point of noting that “the morale and behavior of sailors who had aspired to become a SEAL, and then find themselves serving in a more traditional role on a Navy ship, are frequently very challenging.”

The affidavit adds that the ship’s Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez told investigators that Mays showed “disdain towards authority and the U.S. Navy,” while a sailor named Kenji Velasco said that Mays “‘hates’ the U.S. Navy and the [Third] Fleet.”

According to the document, investigators found that three of the four firefighting stations closest to the area of the ship where the fire started showed evidence that they had been tampered with, the hoses having been cut or disconnected. They also found bottles and cans near the ignition site containing small amounts of liquid. The affidavit said the liquid found in one of the bottles tested positive for a “heavy petroleum distillate,” examples of which include “diesel, kerosene and jet fuel.”

Sailors on the Bonhomme Richard reported seeing a sailor they believed to be Mays go down to the ship’s lower vehicle storage area, where the fire originated, shortly before the blaze erupted July 12.

When investigators told Mays he had been identified as the sailor seen going below deck, Mays claimed that he was “being setup” and added that his cohorts could not have identified him because “I had a face mask on.” According to the affidavit, investigators had not told Mays the suspicious sailor had been wearing a mask.

Ryan Mays was described by a former girlfriend as "volatile and bipolar."
Ryan Mays was described by a former girlfriend as “volatile and bipolar.”
AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File

In the same interview, which lasted for approximately 10 hours, Mays volunteered that he planned to reapply to be a Navy SEAL. He also claimed that he had dated and proposed marriage to a female sailor who was later shipped to Los Angeles aboard the Navy hospital ship Mercy in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Mays, he had broken up with the woman after she became pregnant and he learned he was not the father.

When investigators interviewed the female sailor, she denied that she had been engaged to Mays or had ever been pregnant, though she did recall Mays telling other sailors that he was going to be a father. According to the document, the female sailor described Mays as “volatile and ‘bipolar.’”

Mays was arrested following the interview. The document states that as he was being booked, Mays was heard by two sailors saying “that he was guilty, seemingly talking to himself.”

Under the military’s code of justice, a preliminary hearing will be held at which a presiding officer will review the evidence against Mays and recommend whether he should be court-martialed or whether the charges should be dropped.

Officials announced in November of last year that the Bonhomme Richard would be decommissioned and scrapped, citing estimates that making the vessel seaworthy again would have taken up to seven years and cost more than $3 billion.


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