Halethorpe man, among 7 who died in USS Fitzgerald collision, had followed in father's Navy footsteps

Xavier Martin joined the U.S. Navy to follow his father's footsteps.

He excelled, and by 24 had become the youngest petty officer with a rank of first class aboard the USS Fitzgerald, based in Yokosuka, Japan, his father, Darrold Martin, said.

"He was mimicking me," said Martin, of Halethorpe, who served four years in the Navy.

The young sailor's promising career was cut short Saturday when the Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off Japan on Saturday. He was among seven killed.

Xavier Martin's aunt, Daneace Jeffrey, 58, said Navy officials came to her brother's townhouse twice, first at about 2:45 a.m. Saturday to tell his family he was missing, and then a second time Saturday night to inform them of his death.

"It's devastating. He's really been in agony," Jeffrey said of her brother.

Jeffrey said the family was not told what caused the collision.

The ships collided about 2:20 a.m. Saturday, when most of the 300 sailors on board the Fitzgerald would have been sleeping. Authorities have declined to speculate on a cause while the crash remains under investigation.

The damage to the destroyer suggests that the container ship, the ACX Crystal, might have slammed into it at a high speed, raising questions about communication between the two vessels in an area traversed by as many as 400 ships every day, according to Japan's coast guard. Most congestion occurs in the early hours of the day, and fast currents make it a tricky area that requires experience and skill to navigate.

The ACX Crystal weighs 29,060 tons and is 730 feet long, much larger than the 8,315-ton destroyer.

The container ship's left bow was dented and scraped, but it did not appear to have sustained any major structural damage when it was docked in the Tokyo bay late Saturday.

The Japan-based 7th Fleet identified the victims on Monday as Martin, Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Va.; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, Calif.; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, Conn.; Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Texas; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista, Calif.; and Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio.

Martin was a personnel specialist first class.

Darrold Martin, 60, raised Xaiver as a single parent since Xavier was 10. He struggled Monday to hold back tears.

When Xavier was just 10 minutes old, Darrold whispered a promise: "I'll never leave you."

He said the infant grabbed his finger, and the two shared an incredible bond since.

Xavier Martin graduated from Lansdowne High School in 2010. His father said he had an internship with the National Security Agency, but decided to pursue a career in the Navy instead.

Darrold Martin said he told his son about the importance of military service, and how it betters a person.

Jeffrey said her brother and his son were "joined at the hip."

"He was so proud of him," she said.

During his five years in the Navy, Xavier was stationed in Guam and in Japan. Before leaving for Japan last September, Xaiver spent several weeks in Maryland spending time with his father and some high school friends.

His father said he tried to encourage his son to travel or visit with friends, but his son wanted to spend time with his dad, and spent his dad's birthday with him.

During the visit, he said, his son expressed interest in staying in the Navy for his career.

Since his son's death, Martin said, he's heard from people all over the country who worked with him.

Xavier Martin was close with his family in Detroit, including twin cousins, Jade and Jewl Matthews, 33, with whom he spent summers as a child.

Jewl Matthews said Martin was always smiling and in good spirits, and loved to joke around and make people laugh.

"He used to always play this Ludacris song to us, 'Roll out,'" she said. "Me and my friends would crack up because of the way he rapped it. He knew every word in the song."

Cathy Matthews, the twins' mother and Darrold Martin's first cousin, said Xavier would do little things to make people laugh, such as pushing his sunglasses to the top of his head, then winking his eyes and making the glasses fall into place.

"I was really proud of him because he wanted to do something in life," she said. "He always knew that he would have a good future ahead of him. He had a really good dad that raised him right and steered him in the right direction."

Jade Matthews said her cousin spoke about going into nursing or physical therapy after his Navy service ended. She said he was "beyond intelligent" and knew French.

The Detroit relatives spoke of Xavier's close bond with his father. Jewl Matthews said Xavier's father was his best friend.

"The bond that they had was out of this world," Jade Matthews said. "Just the way he would talk about him, the way they were around each other."

Jade Matthews said she and other family members have been taking the loss hard.

"I tried to go to work today and a guy walked in with a Navy shirt, and I broke down and they sent me home," she said. "I didn't really get out the bed yesterday."

No funeral arrangements have yet been made. Jeffrey said her nephew's body is expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tuesday.

Amid his grief, Martin also expressed pride in his son.

"My son is a hero in my eyes," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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