Navy SEAL candidate death: Father of SEAL trainee who died in 2016 speaks out amid renewed calls for justice

Aspiring Navy SEAL candidate dies after completing ‘Hell Week’ training

Kyle Mullen’s former football coach in New Jersey, Ed Gurrieri, and his friend Taylor Aloisio joined ‘Fox & Friends’ to discuss the tragic loss. Mullen’s cause of death is under investigation.

EXCLUSIVE: The father of a U.S. Navy SEAL candidate who died during a training exercise in 2016 has a message for the family of recently fallen Seaman Kyle Mullen amid renewed calls for justice for his son.

“I’d like to send my condolences to Kyle Mullen’s family. No one can relate to their situation like I can,” James Lovelace told Fox News Digital when reached by phone. “I know what they’re going through, and what they’re about to go through with the lack of information that they’re going to get from the U.S. Navy surrounding their son’s death.” 

Lovelace, 50, has sought answers in the death of his own son, James “Derek” Lovelace, who died during a SEAL training exercise in May 2016. Since then, Lovelace said, the U.S. Navy and officials have falsified information related to the 21-year-old’s death, and has never acknowledged any wrongdoing at the hands of those involved in this death.

This undated file photo released by the Naval Special Warfare Center shows Seaman James "Derek" Lovelace.
(Naval Special Warfare Center via AP, File)

“I’m kind of reliving my son’s incident six years ago all over again,” Lovelace said. “It’s a sad world when this is what it takes for me to get some attention for my son: another young man dying.” 

Lovelace and his daughter, Derek’s sister, Lynsi Kay Price, responded to Fox News Digital’s request to speak. After some reconsideration, Price decided doing so would be too painful for her. 

Mullen, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, died after experiencing an unknown illness at the same Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, California, on February 4. Officials have said he had successfully completed “Hell Week,” a notoriously grueling part of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) training, but began experiencing unspecified symptoms hours later. 

Navy SEAL candidate Kyle Mullen is seen in these photos provided by his family.
(Fox News Digital)

He and another SEAL candidate who was experiencing the symptoms were taken to nearby hospitals. Mullen could not be saved, the Navy said. The other ill SEAL candidate was reported to have been in stable condition.

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s Office and a Navy spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for information related to Mullen’s death. The Navy provided its most recent update regarding the investigation on Feb. 6, when its press office released his identity. 

In a statement provided to Fox News Digital on Saturday, Mullen’s family wrote that while devastated about his untimely loss, “we could not be more proud.”

“Kyle dreamed of serving others and enlisted in the Navy with the hopes of joining the best of the best – the Navy SEALs. He would not settle for anything less,” the statement continues. “Kyle was exactly where he wanted to be in life when he was with his fellow seamen/warriors/classmates at Coronado. He took on every challenge, and failure was not an option as he strived toward reaching his goal of passing Hell Week and receiving his brown shirt.”


To speak against the U.S. Armed Forces is not something Lovelace had originally expected to be doing. The longtime Crestview, Florida, man joined the U.S. Air Force in 1989, retired as a Master Sergeant, and now works as a government contractor today. 

“I served my country with pride. I take great pride in allowing the war fighters the tools they need to keep our country safe so our citizens can sleep well at night, to protect the homeland,” he said. “My confidence is shaken.”

He went on: “I am angry. I love my country. I don’t love my government.” 

James "Derek" Lovelace with his family.
(Photo provided by James Lovelace)

Nearly six years have passed since Derek’s death, but for the family, the pain of losing him is still raw. 

“He was an absolute animal of an athlete, a gym rat … he worked out every day of his life,” Lovelace said. “He was just full of life. He was a fine young man to be around … His life and his dreams were taken from him.”

Derek Lovelace was partaking in a swimming exercise at the Coronado training facility on May 6, 2016, during his first week of the six-month SEAL program and in the early stages of Hell Week, when he died. According to a copy of the autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press, Lovelace was wearing his full gear and a dive mask while treading water in a pool at the facility when his face turned purple and his lips went blue. 

James "Derek" Lovelace 
(Photo provided by James Lovelace)

He lost consciousness, was pulled out of the pool and ultimately taken to a local hospital, but could not be saved. 

But camera footage from the facility showed an instructor dunking him under the water at least two times, the AP reported. The San Diego Medical Examiner’s Officer ultimately deemed his death a homicide by drowning with contributing factors related to his heart.

The elder Lovelace said the Navy officials ultimately decided not to pursue charges against the instructor. Nothing was done, he added, and the department ultimately cut ties with the family completely.

The instructor, Lovelace said, “was allowed to effectively walk away scot-free, while my only son lays to rest. His lifelong dream of becoming a Navy SEAL was taken from him.”

Lovelace says the Navy “invented false medical reasons” for his son’s death, such as an enlarged heart and abnormal artery.

James "Derek" Lovelace with his sister.
(Photo provided by James Lovelace)

“Ironically, Derek went through extensive medical screenings before [he was] allowed to join. The SEAL community goes through more extensive medical tests than just your regular sailor,” he said. “This was all completely falsified.”

He said they also claimed Derek was not a strong swimmer. But his family and his obituary describe him differently, as having “enjoyed any activity on the water.”

“Again, this goes against everything they are,” he went on. “You don’t get to BUD/S without being a strong swimmer.” 

A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy did not respond to requests for comment regarding Lovelace’s death. The San Diego Medical Examiner’s Office could not provide Fox News Digital with a copy of the autopsy report in time for this story. 

James "Derek" Lovelace 
(Photo provided by James Lovelace)

Lovelace said he no longer believes safety is the “first priority”for the U.S. Navy.

“I sent my 21-year-old son off to start his career. I had to put the faith in the Navy SEAL community that he would be safe and taken care of, and that did not happen,” he said. “And parents of young men who choose this path need to know that and accept that risk that you may never see your son again.”

He added: “It would be different if I lost my son in combat. I would accept that. But on day five of training – that’s unacceptable.”

Following news of Mullen’s sudden death, “my heart exploded,” Lovelace said. 

I had hoped and prayed that the training machine had been fixed that my son’s death would have corrected this problem. And I knew that it hadn’t been corrected if another young man had died.”

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