NCIS deaths in order: Every major character who's died on NCIS (so far)

Over the years, some NCIS characters have met sadly brutal ends. Here's a look at the top major character deaths on the series!
“Black Sky” – Torres finds himself in prison as the team tries to stop an impending terror attack on U.S. soil, on the 20th season finale of the CBS Original series NCIS, Monday, May 22 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Pictured: David McCallum as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“Black Sky” – Torres finds himself in prison as the team tries to stop an impending terror attack on U.S. soil, on the 20th season finale of the CBS Original series NCIS, Monday, May 22 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+*. Pictured: David McCallum as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Over its 21 seasons, NCIS has seen a lot of characters come and go. Most have moved on nicely with Gibbs retiring, Bishop getting a new job with the CIA and others coming and going. However, a few times, a character exits the show in brutal circumstances with a stunning death that can shake the show up.

It’s one thing for a recurring or minor character and another for someone who played a major part in the series, including in the opening credits. While NCIS hasn’t done that many deaths for their bigger names, when they do kill a character off, it’s a huge deal. In order, here’s every major character death on NCIS and how they shook the series. 

Christopher Pacci (“Dead Man Talking” Season 1 Episode 19)

Notable as the first major character death on the show, Chris Pacci had been aiding the team for a time and looked like he’d be a regular character soon. Pacci was brought onto an old cold case involving a Navy commander who had vanished with $10 million. That led to a woman named Amanda, only for it to turn out she was that Navy officer having faked his death to change himself.

With Gibbs busy, Pacci went to confront Amanda, only to be killed by her. The team was quick to find Amanda and get justice but still mourned not giving Pacci a chance before and costing them an agent. 

Caitlin Todd (“Twilight” Season 2 Episode 23)

Sasha, Sasha Alexander
2003 TCA Summer Press Tour - CBS Party / Gregg DeGuire/GettyImages

It’s the death that changed NCIS forever. Caitlin Todd had been a mainstay since the pilot episode, and the former Secret Service agent became a dependable face on NCIS. Her banter with Tony was infectious, she proved her toughness and Sasha Alexander was a huge favorite with the fans. 

Thus, it’s understandable why folks were rocked when the season 2 finale had the team hunting terrorist Ari. Todd was shot in the chest, standing up and being grateful for her Kevlar vest…and with no warning, a bullet ripped through her head. Alexander bid goodbye in the Season 3 premiere with Kate moving into the afterlife, but her stunning death was a game-changer for the entire NCIS series. 

Paula Cassidy (“Grace Period” Season 4 Episode 19)

While not an official member of the team, Paula Cassidy showed up enough times to be close to one. She worked with them in Season 1 and made more appearances afterward. That included a romance with Tony and being hunted by a serial killer in the classic episode “Mind Games.”

In Season 4, Paula returned, now heading up her own unit for the Pentagon. When her entire team was killed in a bombing, Paula was obsessed with finding the culprit. She sacrificed herself to stop the bomber, leaving the team, especially Tony, devastated and her photo on the memory wall proves how close an agent she was to them. 

Jenny Shephard (“Judgement Day” Season 5, Episode 18)

Lauren Holly
Lauren Holly at Lush Salon / Kevin Winter/GettyImages

Debuting in the Season 3 premiere, Jenny Shephard was the new NCIS director who was also a past lover of Gibbs. That led to a complex dynamic with Jenny often cold bossing around the team and playing politics. Season 5 began the subplot that Jenny was facing a rare disease that could threaten her life. 

That played into the Season 5 finale as Jenny confessed she was still in love with Gibbs and how she’d botched an operation killing an innocent person years before. She ended up dying in a gun battle with Gibbs and Mike Franks burning down her house so her death was attributed to an accidental fire. The team mourned not just Jenny but not appreciating her when she was alive, an attitude shared by fans. 

Mike Franks (“Swan Song” Season 8 Episode 23)

Muse, Muse Watson
"A Day Without a Mexican" - Premiere / Amy Graves/GettyImages

Gibbs’ former partner and mentor who still called him “Probie,” Mike Franks was a fun recurring character on the show. The gruff figure was an old-school investigator who inspired many of Gibbs’ quirks and attitude but could put him in his place. Muse Watson was loveable in the role as any Mike episode was a good one. 

Franks would aid the team in Season 8’s hunt for the Baltimore Port-to-Port Killer. He attempted to catch him on his own and was killed. It turned out Franks was already dying of cancer and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. He’s popped up in flashback and dream episodes and set to be in the NCIS: Origins series to remain a vital character. 

Ziva David (Almost) (“Family First” Season 13 Episode 24)

Life Before His Eyes
“Life Before His Eyes”-- Michael Weatherly and Cote de Pablo During a routine stop for his morning coffee, Gibbs finds himself face-to-face with the barrel of a gun, which forces him to question choices he has made in the past and present, on the 200th episode of NCIS, Tuesday, Feb. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Okay, it didn’t really count, but it should be noted as it was believed to be real for so long. NCIS fans were thrown into Season 11 when, without warning, Cote de Pablo left the show and Ziva David suddenly vanished. It was a big plot for a bit, with fans wondering what became of her. 

The Season 13 finale had the team learning Ziva was reported killed in a mortar attack. Tony was thrown to discover Ziva had given birth to their daughter and left the team to raise her. Of course, Season 17 revealed Ziva was still alive and she and Tony about to get their own spinoff but for a few years, this death felt pretty certain for the show. 

Tom Morrow (“Return to Sender” Season 13 Episode 21)

Showing up on the backdoor pilot, Tom Morrow (Alan Dale) was the original director of NCIS. He would pop up as a gruff figure so serious that Gibbs deferred to him a lot. Dale wasn’t a regular cast member but showed up a lot before Season 3 had him accepting a new job with the Department of Homeland Security. He made a few appearances later but Season 13 revealed that Morrow was killed by a rogue CIA officer. It was a sad sendoff to the first boss of the NCIS series. 

Clayton Reeves (“Two Steps Back” Season 15 Episode 22)

"Fake It 'Til You Make It" -- After Reeves sees his friend get kidnapped, the NCIS team discovers the primary suspect disappeared two days ago with confidential military information. Also, an embarrassing photo from McGee's teenage years becomes a popular meme, on NCIS, Tuesday, Oct. 24 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: Emily Wickersham, Duane Henry. Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved /

A good addition to NCIS, Duane Harry’s former British agent fit well with the team. He had a dashing style and some good turns that made him stand out nicely. That included exploring his past as an alcoholic and bonding with Abby.

In the Season 15 finale, Reeves was shot and killed by a hitman out to get Abby. She was as heartbroken by it as fans were, leaving the team to start a foundation in Reeves’ name. While his loss was sad, it also speaks to how strongly Reeves connected with fans to make his passing meaningful. 

Donald “Ducky” Mallard (“The Stories We Leave Behind” Season 21 Episode 2)

Everything Starts Somewhere
“Everything Starts Somewhere” – Flashbacks reveal the murder case that first introduced young Gibbs (Sean Harmon) to NCIS and his introduction to young, new-to-America Ducky (Adam Campbell), on the 400th episode of NCIS, Tuesday, Nov. 24 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Pictured: David McCallum as Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2020 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

To wrap up the list is the most heartbreaking death of them all as it wasn’t just the character but the actor playing him. From day one of NCIS, Ducky was one of the most loved characters on the show, the witty medical examiner with unending stories, a nice drive and a father figure to the whole team. David McCallum made the role spectacular all the way to a cameo in the Season 20 finale. 

Tragically, McCallum passed away in September 2023 when the show was on hiatus. Thus, the ending of the Season 21 premiere had the team learning Jimmy had found Ducky passed away of natural causes. They solved one last case he was working on while sharing warm memories, a fitting sendoff for both Ducky and McCallum and a goodbye to the heart of NCIS

Side character deaths

Reef Madness
“Reef Madness” – Parker and Knight discover three bodies on an old Navy ship that’s about to be sunk and turned into an artificial reef, when they’re suddenly locked inside by a mysterious figure. Also, Vance offers Knight a unique opportunity, on the 21st season finale of the CBS Original series NCIS, Monday, May 6 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ (live and on-demand for Paramount+ with SHOWTIME subscribers, or on-demand for Paramount+ Essential /

While NCIS has seen a score of big character deaths, there are several smaller or recurring characters who have also met sad fates so here’s a quick rundown of the bigger names:

  • Clayton Jarvis (Season 11, Episode 1)
  • Michelle Lee (Season 6, Episode 9)
  • Breena Palmer (Off-screen Season 18)
  • Ned Dornegt (Season 12 Episode 23)
  • Diane Sterling (Season 12, Episode 11)
  • Jackie Vance (Season 10, Episode 11)
  • Eli David (Season 10, Episode 11)
  • Jackson Gibbs (Season 11, Episode 24)
  • Emily Fornell (Season 18, Episode (9)

NCIS Seasons 1-21 streaming on Paramount+.

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