A convention center billboard asks people to pray for the Marines killed in Hawthorne, Nev., on March 19. Military officials say a mortar shell explosion killed seven Marines and injured a half-dozen more during a training exercise in Nevada's high desert. (Marilyn Newton / The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)
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The Marines have tapped Naval Criminal Investigative Service to conduct the probe into a fatal training accident, officials with Headquarters Marine Corps said Wednesday afternoon. The investigation has been ongoing since a 66mm mortar shell exploded in its tube Monday night during training at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada, killing seven Marines and wounding eight more.
The identities of the Marines killed in the accident will be announced Wednesday evening just before 10p.m., officials with II Marine Expeditionary Force said.
Capt. Binford Strickland, a spokesman for II MEF, said in a release that all the families of the deceased have been notified, and officials plan to release the identities and unit information for the troops this evening following a 24-hour waiting period.
The six Marines and a sailor hospitalized after the accident are improving, Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nev., reported Wednesday afternoon.
Following the tragic accident, the injured were taken to Renown, where six remained Wednesday, with three upgraded from very serious to serious condition, and three improved from serious to fair condition. One Marine was discharged with minor injuries, the medical center reported on its website. The general types of injuries sustained included trauma, vascular injuries, and fractures, Renown officials reported.
The Marines have issued a Deadline Safety of Use message suspending all use of the M224A1 60mm mortar system for all Marine Commands in training and downrange after a Monday explosion killed seven Marines, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Richard Ulsh confirmed Wednesday morning.
The decision was made just before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to issue a blanket suspension of the system. Ulsh said that the suspension comes with an exception: General officers in combat theater can still authorize use of the mortars if they choose.
The mortar system is likely to remain offline until the investigation of the fatal accident at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada has been completed.
In a press conference Tuesday aboard Camp Lejeune, 2nd Marine Division Commander Brig. Gen. Jim Lukeman told reporters the training accident that killed seven Marines was the result of a malfunction when a 60mm mortar round exploded inside a tube prior to firing.
In total, Lukeman said, seven Marines were killed and seven troops injured in the accident.
Lukeman said a team of investigators is working to learn exactly how the Marines were positioned when the explosion occurred and what went wrong in firing the mortar.
“We mourn the loss of these brave Marines who gave their lives to defend the nation,” he said.
The Marines were assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune. The accident occurred just before 10 p.m., said Capt. Binford Strickland, a spokesman for II Marine Expeditionary Force, the battalion’s parent command.
Marine officials have not identified anyone involved in the incident. However, family members have told The Associated Press that Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio, and Roger Muchnick, 23, a Connecticut native, were among those killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.