UPDATE: Another Fort Hood Soldier Goes Missing Amid Sexual Abuse Claims, Army Officials Say
Sgt. Elder Fernandes was last seen alive shortly after checking out of an on-base hospital.
Police in Texas have found what is believed to be the body of Elder Fernandes, the 23-year-old Fort Hood sergeant who recently disappeared from the base after reporting sexual abuse.
In a statement obtained by USA Today, the Temple Police Department noted they responded to a call at 5:36 p.m. Tuesday about a man spotted near railroad tracks.
“Upon officers’ arrival, it was determined that the subject had been deceased for some period of time,” the department said in the statement.
Family representative Natalie Khawam said Army officials told the missing soldier’s loved ones that a body was found hanging in a tree about 30 miles from Fort Hood and Fernandes’ backpack and driver’s license were located at the scene, the Associated Press reported.
Forensic confirmation and an autopsy are pending, police said, but foul play is not suspected.
“I am saddened that another soldier who served the country has been destroyed by sexual assault and sexual harassment and this toxic culture in the military that exists,” Khawam said.
ORIGINAL POST 8/25/20:
A Fort Hood soldier in Texas has gone missing after reporting to superiors he was the victim of sexual abuse.
Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, spent six days in an on-base hospital and was last seen Aug. 17 — the day he was discharged — by his staff sergeant, who dropped him off at a home in Killeen, ABC News reported.
Fernandes’ former roommate, who lives at the residence, said the soldier never came inside and hadn’t stayed there for some time.
Fernandes failed to show up to work the following day and was reported missing on Aug. 19.
According to ABC News, Fort Hood public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam confirmed Fernandes reported he had been the victim of “abusive sexual contact.”
The soldier’s older brother, Elton, said a month before he went missing, Fernandes claimed another man had grabbed his buttocks. Elton said his sibling told him “not to worry about it, because he's taking care of it.”
Brautigam said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press that the “unit sexual assault response coordinator has been working closely with Sgt. Fernandes, ensuring he was aware of all his reporting, care, and victim advocacy options.”
Fernandes, a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist who is originally from Cape Verde but grew up in Massachusetts, recently transferred to a different unit “to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals,” Brautigam added.
According to a 1st Cavalry Division statement, fellow soldiers indicated Fernandes, whose vehicle was found in his unit’s parking lot on base, “left on his own accord.”
“The entire family’s trying to find out where he is,” the soldier’s aunt, Isabel Fernandes, told The Boston Globe. “We all love him, we miss him, and we need him home with us.”
Fernandes’ disappearance is the third time in a year a soldier from the post has gone missing.
Vanessa Guillén, 20, vanished in April shortly after telling loved ones she was being sexually harassed but was afraid to report the incidents for fear of reprisal.
Guillén’s partial remains were found in a shallow grave in Bell County on July 1. Fort Hood Spc. Aaron David Robinson, 20, killed himself hours after the discovery. Robinson’s civilian girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges she conspired to tamper with evidence.
Killeen police and Army officials suspect foul play in the case of Pvt. 2nd Class Gregory Morales, who was reported missing in August 2019. An anonymous tip in June led investigators to the 24-year-old soldier’s skeletal remains in a wooded area not far from Fort Hood.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said on Aug. 6 that an independent review would be launched to identify the “root causes” of Fort Hood’s crime statistics, which also include the May 18 homicide of 27-year-old Pfc. Brandon Scott Rosecrans.
“They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army,” he said.