Body of missing Fort Hood soldier who filed sex abuse claim has been found, family attorney says


FILE – In this file photo provided by the U.S. Army is Sgt. Elder Fernandes. Police say a body found near Fort Hood, Texas, is likely that of Fernandes. Temple police said late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, that identification found with the body indicates the man may be Fernandes. Fernandes is the third soldier from Fort Hood to go missing in the past year. (U.S. Army via AP, File)

TEMPLE, Texas (KWKT/AP)– The body of missing Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes is believed to have been found, according to a lawyer representing the family.

While authorities have yet to identify the body, attorney Natalie Khawam confirmed that Fernandes was found dead Tuesday evening, his body handing in a tree in Temple, Texas, roughly 30 miles away Fort Hood.

Fernandes went missing from the base Aug. 19, police said. Three months earlier he filed a complaint that a superior had sexually assaulted him.

Khawam spoke Wednesday afternoon alongside the family of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who was reported missing in April. Her body was found in June.

“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.

Since March, at least seven soldiers besides Guillen and Fernandes have died or been found dead, CNN reports. Three have gone missing from Fort Hood in the past year.

Story on search for Sgt. Elder from Aug. 23:

Investigators say identification found at the scene Tuesday indicated the body is that of 23-year-old Sgt. Fernandes but police are waiting for forensic confirmation before making a positive identification.

The attorney representing the family of Sgt. Elder Fernandes has confirmed on Twitter that police found his body Tuesday evening.

Officers first got a medical call just after 5:30 p.m. from a person saying that a man was observed near the railroad tracks.

When the officers got there, they determined the body had been dead for some period of time.

Police say there is no indication of foul play, but caution that this is only the initial stage of the investigation.

Fernandes’ family had traveled from their home in Brockton, Massachusetts to lead the search for him. His mother, Ailina, has not heard from him since Sunday.

She says her son was in the hospital for six days, saying only that he needed to “clear his mind.”

“I knew he had a lot of pressure on him from the Army people I know he does not want to be with the Army any longer, I know he was unhappy with them,” Ailina Fernandes said. “I know he was getting bullied inside the Army, and that’s all I know.”

Elder Fernandes enlisted in the Army in 2016, Ailina said. After a three-year deployment in Germany, he returned in December and was sent to Fort Hood, originally for six months. But when the coronavirus pandemic stalled travel across the globe, his stay became extended, she said.

Isabel Fernandes said her nephew was happy in the Army and had just renewed his contract until 2024. But she said things changed when, according to the accounts they have gathered from multiple people close to Elder Fernandes, he filed a sexual-assault claim against a superior on May 11. She said the family has also learned he was bullied, harassed and hazed when he was moved to a new unit following the assault.

U.S. Army officials confirmed in a statement that Elder Fernandes reported an incident of “abusive sexual contact” and that investigation is ongoing. He was transferred to a different unit within the brigade and officials said they are unaware of reports of bullying or hazing.

According to Isabel Fernandes, the family was told by Army officials that a different superior signed her nephew’s hospital release. The superior dropped him off outside of a house belonging to a former roommate of Elder Fernandes.

But Fernandes never made it to the friend’s door.

Ailiana Fernandes remembered her son, one of five kids, as a joyful person who preferred playing with his siblings to going out with friends.

“He would lay on the floor with my 8-month son teaching him how to do push ups and teaching them Army skills,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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