AUSTIN, Texas (CBS/AP) — The body of a missing soldier is believed to have been found about 30 miles from Fort Hood, the Army base in Texas where he was stationed, police said.
Identification found with the body in Temple, Texas, indicates the man may be missing Fort Hood soldier Sgt. Elder Fernandes, according to a statement from local police. Forensic confirmation is pending.
Fernandes, a 23-year-old from Brockton, was reported missing on Wednesday, August 19. Killeen police said he was last seen August 17 when his staff sergeant dropped him off at his home in Killeen. According to his mother Ailina Fernandes, he was dropped off after he was discharged from the hospital on the base but it is unclear what he was in the hospital for.
Fernandes is the third soldier from Fort Hood to go missing in the past year, and two have been found dead this summer.
Temple police received a medical call at 5:36 p.m. saying a male had been seen near some railroad tracks, according to the statement. When officers arrived, they determined the man was dead.
Foul play is not suspected, police said, but the investigation is ongoing. An autopsy has been ordered.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fernandes family during this challenging time,” Temple Police Chief Shawn Reynolds said.
Natalie Khawam, who is representing the Fernandes family, said Army police told family members about the discovery late Tuesday night. She said the body was found hanging in a tree.
Fernandes’ backpack was with him, Khawam said, and police found his driver’s license inside.
“We are sickened by this tragedy that and heartbroken for Elder Fernandes’s family,” she said in a statement to WBZ-TV Wednesday. “We will not stop until we find out what happened to Elder. Enough is Enough! We demand a Congressional Investigation of Ft. Hood. We must protect our soldiers! We demand Justice for Elder!”
Fernandes was reported missing by Killeen and U.S. Army police on Aug. 19 after he was last seen on Aug. 17, when officials said a superior dropped him off at his house. Fort Hood said in a statement over the weekend that Fernandes had transferred units after reporting sexual abuse, an Army official said in a statement.
“Look what happens when you report sexual harassment at Fort Hood,” Khawam said at a press conference Wednesday. “You get bullied, you get hazed, you get harassed, you turn up dead.”
“Because he reported sexual assault and he’s a man, so he became the subject of bullying, hazing and all kinds of harassment,” Elder’s aunt, Isabel Fernandez, told WBZ Wednesday.
Fort Hood officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Army and the Fernandes family had asked the public for help in finding the missing soldier.
“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,” said Khawam, who is also representing the family of Vanessa Guillen, another Fort Hood soldier who went missing and who was found dead.
The Army said a fellow soldier killed her.
U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in a visit to Fort Hood earlier this month that the Central Texas base had some of the highest numbers of sexual assault, harassment and murder. He ordered an independent probe of Fort Hood in July, after authorities said Guillen was slain.
“They don’t deserve this. The family doesn’t deserve this,” said Isabel Fernandes. “We raised our son and daughters to be a patriots, to be a servant of this country. Not to come to Texas to come and get the body and go back home for burial.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker reacted to Fernandes’ death on Twitter.
On behalf of the entire Commonwealth, our hearts go out to the family of Sergeant Elder Fernandes of Brockton, as they mourn this loss today.
— Charlie Baker (@MassGovernor) August 26, 2020
“I am working with my colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation to demand a full, transparent investigation into this tragedy and the conditions at Fort Hood,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a statement Wednesday. “Elder was a son, a brother, and a U.S. soldier, and his family deserves justice.”
Congressman Stephen Lynch said in a statement he joins Warren, Sen. Ed Markey, and Rep. Lori Trahan in calling for an independent investigation into Fernandes’ death.
“The death of Sergeant Elder Fernandes, USA, is a devastating loss for his family and loved ones,” Lynch said. “The circumstances of yet another soldier’s death at Fort Hood raises important questions that must be answered.”
Flags at Brockton City Hall were lowered to half-staff Wednesday in honor of Fernandes.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Associated Press reporter Acacia Coronado contributed to this report.)