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Former veteran hospital nursing assistant charged with murder in string of insulin deaths

  • July 14, 2020

WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors say a former nursing assistant killed seven veterans in West Virginia by injecting them with lethal doses of insulin, causing their blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels.

Reta Mays, a former employee at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in rural Clarksburg, is facing seven second-degree murder charges and one count of assault with intent to commit murder, according to charging documents unsealed Tuesday. 

Mays is scheduled for a plea hearing Tuesday afternoon. Her attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Authorities are investigating a string of suspicious deaths at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Five of the victims have been publicly identified (clockwise from left): Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr., 81; Army veteranWilliam Sport Holloway, 96; Army veteran Archie Dail Edgell, 84; Navy veteran John Hallman, 87; Army veteran Felix Kirk McDermott, 82.

The development comes about two years after a criminal investigation into suspicious deaths of 10 veterans at the hospital began. All patients were elderly veterans staying in in the hospital’s surgical unit, known as Ward 3A. All suffered unexplained drops in their blood sugar levels.

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Federal prosecutors tied Mays, who began working at the hospital five years ago and was assigned to work the night shift at Ward 3A, to seven deaths in 2017 and 2018. As a nursing assistant, Mays was responsible for, among other things, checking vital signs, testing patients’ blood sugar levels, but was not qualified to administer medication, including insulin. 

She was fired in July 2018.

USA TODAY reported in October that hospital staff missed opportunities to figure out what was happening, which may have risked veterans’ lives and limited evidence in the probe. The hospital didn’t adequately track insulin, and there were no surveillance cameras on the ward, according to employees. 

8/27/2019. This is Felix Kirk McDermott a veteran who died in 2018 at a VA hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

By the time a doctor alerted hospital supervisors of the deaths in June 2018, at least eight patients had died under suspicious circumstances. Several had been embalmed and buried, destroying potential evidence. Many of the bodies had to be exhumed for a medical examiner to perform autopsies. One veteran had been cremated.

The investigation drew the interest of Attorney General William Barr after it became public last year that two of the deaths had been ruled homicides. 

Felix Kirk McDermott, 82, and George Nelson Shaw, Sr., 81, died in April 2018. The Army Forces medical examiner ruled that both men died by homicide by insulin injection.

Air Force veteran George Nelson Shaw Sr., died on on April 10, 2018, at the VA hospital in Clarksburg, W. Va. His death, ruled a homicide by an Armed Forces examiner, is one of 10 under investigation by federal authorities. He was 81.

Other deaths have been ruled “undetermined.” Some were not diabetic, while others had Type 2 diabetes but were either not prescribed insulin or needed only a small dose. 

The other victims are Archie Edgell, 84, Robert Edge, Sr., Robert Kozul, Raymond Golden and one identified in charging documents as W.A.H. USA TODAY reported last year that William Alfred Holloway, 96, died after suffering severe hypoglycemia, a condition in which blood sugar levels plummet. 

Three deaths in three days:Veterans died at a VA hospital under the same suspicious circumstances. What happened?

The men died within months, sometimes days, of each other.

Court records say Mays attempted to kill another veteran, identified in court records as R.R.P., by injecting him with insulin. 

One veteran, John Hallman, 87, was cremated, although his daughter said his medical records showed his level of insulin spiked before he died.

Contributing: Donovan Slack and Kevin Johnson

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