The sailor who went missing aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh in June 2017 was “troubled” by personal and financial crises and displayed signs of instability days before he disappeared, triggering a sprawling man-overboard search in the Pacific before he was discovered hiding in an escape passage, Navy Times reports.
Petty Officer Third Class Peter Mims, a gas turbine systems technician aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, had shouldered a failed marriage and nearly $7,000 in debt to the Navy in 2016, according to a branch investigation obtained by Navy Times under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the investigation, Mims reportedly sought out mental health counseling but never actually received support.
These stresses culminated in a “clear instability” in Mims’ behavior days before disappearance, including paranoid delusions — he told one crew member that “he could stop running engineering department engines by pulsating electricity with his body, that he could shoot fireballs out of his hands,” according to the investigation — and an unexplained absence from watch on June 5 after which Mims quipped to his fellow crew members, “If you are looking for me and can’t find me, then you are looking too hard.” From the investigation:
Mims became increasingly paranoid and delusional, later telling investigators he believed “that people had been ordered to follow him and that they were observing him in berthing and around the ship.”
Mims showed another sailor how he had placed tape on his rack and vents of his locker to prevent anyone from sticking items in his area to “frame him,” according to the investigation.
The day before he went missing, Mims met with his chain of command to discuss options for leaving the Navy early, then went and cleared out his workspace locker, telling shipmates he was spring cleaning.
Mims disappeared on June 8. He was finally discovered on June 15 squirreled away in an engineering-space escape passage “covered in urine and feces” and equipped “with a camelback, a multi-tool, Peeps candy and an empty peanut butter jar with him,” according to the investigation.
In its report on the military investigation, Navy Times says the service also explicitly acknowledged its own role in allowing the strange Shiloh saga to occur in the first place. Despite the warning signs in the days before his disappearance, the investigation concludes that Shiloh’s CO, Capt. Adam Aycock, and his subordinates failed “to adequately assess (Mims) was not fit for full duty,” even as the troubled sailor actively displayed erratic behavior in front of the chain of command.
Why were the signs missed? Because everyone was really busy, with “significant and dynamic” pressures facing the 7th Fleet after the twin collisions of Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain over the summer, Navy Times quotes the investigation as saying. In September, the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer over readiness in the wake of those crashes, chief among them the silent, pervasive threat of sleep deprivation.
Those problems may have been magnified under Aycock’s command. Sailor comments from Shiloh command climate surveys, obtained by Navy Times in October, captured a crew on the brink of disaster: “It feels like a race to see which will break down first, the ship or it’s crew.”