The sailor charged with arson for allegedly setting aflame the 40,000-ton USS Bonhomme Richard, injuring more than 60 people, has been identified in an NCIS search warrant as a failed Navy SEAL bent on revenge.
Ryan Sawyer Mays, 20, was named the primary suspect for the first time in the legal document, which was obtained by the Daily Beast and seen by the Daily Mail. Investigators were led to Mays after interviewing the 177 service members assigned to the Bonhomme Richard and several of them claimed to either see Mays around the scene of the fire before it was set, hear him say he was guilty while talking to himself or hear him express extreme disdain for the Navy.
The warrant also says a polygraph revealed Mays was lying about certain relevant questions pertaining to the events of July 12, 2020, the day the fire was set. And further red flags were raised when Mays allegedly also lied to investigators about his personal life, claiming he had gotten another sailor pregnant. When she was questioned, the sailor denied ever being pregnant and said Mays was ‘volatile and bipolar.’
The affidavit states that Mays joined the Navy in 2019 ‘with the intent on becoming trained in the Advanced Electronics Computer Fields,’ but ‘changed his career goals to becoming a Navy SEAL.’ Five days into his training, he dropped out and was assigned as an ‘undesignated Seaman’ abroad the Bonhomme Richard.
Ryan Sawyer Mays was named as the primary suspect for allegedly setting aflame the 40,000-ton USS Bonhomme Richard that injured 63 people. Above is a screenshot from a search warrant showing an Instagram post he made two days after the fire
Investigators were led to Mays after a sailor claimed to either see Mays around the scene of the fire before it was set
Mays joined the Navy in 2019 ‘with the intent on becoming trained in the Advanced Electronics Computer Fields,’ but ‘changed his career goals to becoming a Navy SEAL,’ according to the search warrant
Above is the disastrous blaze, which began July 12, 2020, and damaged all of the ship’s 14 decks
Two sailors also told investigators that they ‘heard Mays say (unasked) that he was guilty, seemingly talking to himself,’ an affidavit reads
The affidavit reads, ‘According to Navy leadership, 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.’
Mays faces possible charges of aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel, if the Navy seeks a court martial, though the probe is ongoing. As of now, he is in custody in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, where he is charged with arson, use of fire to damage federal property and making a false statement, the warrant states.
The ship fire reached 1,000-degrees and damaged all 14 decks, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters last summer. The ship was docked in San Diego during the blaze, which continued for four days until it was eventually snuffed out by about 400 sailors from 16 vessels, a number of helicopters dumping water from above, the Naval Base San Diego Fire Department, and multiple volunteer fire departments from surrounding cities.
At least 63 people were injured, including 18 firefighters who filed workers’ compensation for suffering concussions, orthopedic issues, dehydration and smoke inhalation.
Sailor Seaman Kenji Velasco explained over the course of several interviews that he saw Mays enter Lower V, the lower vehicle storage area where the fire took place, minutes before the blaze started.
He said that he saw a ‘light-skin male’ wearing clean coveralls and a facemask who was carrying a silver or metal bucket and, when he passed Velasco, the person said, ‘I love deck,’ a sarcastic phrase Mays had said before.
Five days into his training, Mays dropped out and was assigned as an ‘undesignated Seaman’ abroad the Bonhomme Richard. He is pictured above in a Facebook photo with his mom Christina Mays
Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez told investigators that Mays ‘showed disdain towards authority and the U.S. Navy’
Mays allegedly also lied to investigators about his personal life, claiming he had gotten another sailor pregnant. When she was questioned, the sailor denied ever being pregnant and said Mays was ‘volatile and bipolar’
Mays faces possible charges of aggravated arson and willful hazarding of a vessel, if the Navy seeks a court martial
Photos show the charred insides of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which burned for more than four days
Velasco stated that he didn’t recognize the person at first, but later said he was ‘fairly sure’ and ’90percent sure’ that it was Mays. He added that Mays hates the U.S. Navy and the Fleet.
Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez also told investigators that Mays ‘showed disdain toward authority and the U.S. Navy,’ and days before the fire had lashed out at a contractor who confronted him for sleeping during his duty day, the affidavit reads.
Days after the blaze, Velasco said he questioned Mays on whether he went to Lower V before the fire started and Mays said he had. May’s friend, Matthew Gonzalez, said he was there during the interaction and that Mays look uncomfortable when asked the question.
Two Master-at-Arms sailors told investigators that they ‘heard Mays say (unasked) that he was guilty, seemingly talking to himself,’ according to the search warrant.
Following their reveal, Mays was arrested and began the booking process to be turned over to the Marine Corps. Air Station.
Investigators told Mays that soldiers saw him enter the lower deck before the fire and he responded by saying he was being ‘set up,’ the affidavit reads.
When Mays was asked, along with his soldiers, about his first thoughts on learning about the fire, he allegedly said he felt a ‘small amount of adrenaline and anxiety.’
On June 14, 2020 – two days after the fire — Mays posted a photo of himself on Instagram with the caption, ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning.’ Pressed by investigators about it, Mays said it was a reference to Apocalypse Now, the Francis Ford Coppola film about the Vietnam War.
Mays also was asked about the alleged self-incriminating comments the sailors said they heard him make, but he denied ever making them and agreed to take a polygraph. According to the affidavit, ‘deception was indicated’ during the test in response to a number of relevant questions pertaining to the events of the fire. When he was told about the polygraph results, Mays ‘became extremely upset and denied any involvement in starting the fire,’ the affidavit says.
Investigators also noted a number of red flags raised from Mays’ personal life, including a lie that he broke up with a female sailor after learning she was pregnant with another man. Investigators ‘later learned this was mostly contradicted by the female sailor’ in question, the warrant said.
That sailor, U.S. Sailor Petty Officer Third Class Armelle Ane, said that Mays told everyone that she was pregnant and he was the father, but she said she never was pregnant and even got a test to prove it to people. She also told investigators that Mays is ‘volatile and bipolar,’ according to the search warrant.
The affidavit states, however, that Mays gave authorities contradicting statements about where he kept his computer, ‘possibly for the purpose of frustrating the investigation,’ before investigators found it.
They also seized his iPhone, searched his car and apartment, and swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. However, his DNA has not been a match for DNA found at the scene as of now.
Meanwhile, the Bonhomme Richard, which was awaiting a $250 million upgrade before the fire, was scrapped in November after repairs were estimated at $3.2billion. The ship originally cost $750 million when it was built in 1998, which is roughly $1.2 billion today.