Mother mourns Navy SEAL candidate who died just after "Hell Week"

The death of a Navy SEAL candidate during the grueling selection process known as "Hell Week" — where drop out rates are as high as 90% — has exposed a culture of cheating and performance-enhancing drug use by many trainees.

Earlier this year, Kyle Mullen had just made it through the infamous week —  but when he talked to his mother Regina Mullen on the phone, she knew something was terribly wrong.

"He could barely breathe and I was yelling at him," she told CBS News.

"I asked him, 'Are you in a hospital?'" she recalled.

"No Ma, don't worry," she remembered him saying. "I love you."

Then, she texted him: "I need to know your condition. You did not sound good."

He died hours later, she said.

Kyle Mullen is shown in an undated photo.  / Credit: CBS News

His cause of death was pneumonia, which his mother attributed to the time he spent submerged in the cold water off the coast of Southern California. But a search of a car he shared with other trainees found performance-enhancing drugs, which he had told her about.

"He said it would help him, help them, recover faster and get them through Hell Week," she said. "It was the only way possible to get through."

Forty members of Mullen's 210-person class of would-be SEALs admitted to taking banned substances — a warped testament to training that pushes young men to their absolute limits. Mullen's story and the program's struggles with drug use were first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.

Mullen's mother told CBS News that on the first day of his training, he was not given water all day.

"At the end of the day, he got heatstroke of 104.3 was his core temperature," she said.

Trainees can quit at any time they want — but Mullen refused.

"I'm not going to die," he wrote to himself. "If I do, I'd rather die here."

Mullen's mother likened what he experienced to a "sick hazing."

"It's not training," she said, adding,  "I believe you need SEALs, but not this type of torture."

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