Navy SEAL trainee's drowning death ruled a 'homicide'

Trainee's Suicide Raises Questions About Navy SEAL Training

This story was prepared in partnership with The Virginian-Pilot.

A Navy SEAL trainee drowned after being repeatedly "dunked" underwater by an instructor, according to a San Diego medical examiner's report that labels the death a homicide.

The May 6 death of Seaman James Derek Lovelace had not been announced by the Navy until after officials were questioned about it by NBC News and The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. Navy officials portrayed it as a training mishap. But sources told NBC News and The Pilot the death was caused by an instructor going too far.

READ: Surge in Reported Near Drownings During SEAL Training

Lovelace was struggling during an exercise in which trainees tread water in the pool wearing combat fatigues and boots, according to the medical examiner's report released on Wednesday. During the exercise, "instructors are reportedly advised to not dunk or pull students underwater," the report says.

Seaman James Derek Lovelace, 21, died during basic underwater demolition/SEAL training, better known as BUD/S.

(Photo credit: U.S. Navy)

But in a video of the incident, the report says, "an instructor in the water approaches the decedent and apparently dunks the decedent underwater. Over the course of the next approximately five minutes, the instructor follows the decedent around the pool, continually splashing him with water. The decedent is also splashed by other instructors in the water. Throughout the time period, the decedent is observed to go under the water multiple times."

At one point, the report says, another student approached Lovelace and tried to help him keep his head above water.

READ: Navy SEAL instructor Removed From Training After Sailor's Death

"The instructor appears to again dunk the decedent and continues to follow him around the water. The instructor also appears to pull the decedent partially up and out of the water and then push him back. Eventually, the decedent is assisted to the side of the pool where he is pulled from the water."

Lovelace was initially responsive but he later died, the medical examiner's report says.

The instructor continued in his training job for several days after the incident and was removed from duty only after a story by NBC News and The Pilot raised questions about the Navy's narrative of the death.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is conducting an investigation of the matter.

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