On August 26, a body believed to be the missing Fort Hood, Texas, soldier Elder Fernandes was found, authorities reported, although the official forensic confirmation is pending. In a press release from the Temple Police Department, officials said a body was found near railroad tracks roughly 25 miles from Fort Hood. The preliminary investigation showed that the person had been dead for “some time.”
According to the statement, “Identification found at the scene indicates the victim may be missing Fort Hood Soldier 23-year-old Elder Fernandes.” At this time, police said, foul play is not suspected. The Fort Hood soldier was last seen on Monday, August 17, when he was dropped off at his home in Killeen by his staff sergeant. Killeen PD said that his family reported him missing on Wednesday, August 19.
The U.S. Army added in a statement to CNN that Fernandes is the victim in an “open investigation of abusive sexual contact” and he had recently been transferred to another unit. However, reporter Amanda Ruiz with Fox7 Austin said that in an August 26 press conference, officials said that Fernandes’ sexual abuse allegations were “found to be ‘unsubstantiated.'”
Fernandes’ disappearance puts the troubled military base back in the spotlight. In the past year, the base has seen a string of murders and assaults and at least five soldiers have been found dead around the base, prompting a U.S. Army investigation into the base. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy visited the base earlier this month and said they plan to address the “root causes” of the assaults and soldier deaths occurring on or near the base.
At the time, McCarthy said Fort Hood has “the highest, in most cases,” reports of murders, sexual assaults and harassment of all Army bases. He said:
I’ve met over the last 24 hours with soldiers of every echelon … and told them that were are sending down an independent group of investigators to understand the root causes associated with the rise of felonies, violent acts, to better understand why this is happening in this installation.
Now, a few weeks later, police and U.S. Army officials are appealing the public for help locating Fernandes, with the U.S. Army posting that their “primary concern is to ensure his safety and wellbeing.” Here’s what you need to know about Elder Fernandes, the missing Fort Hood soldier:
1. He Was Last Seen on Monday, August 17, & Was Reported Missing By His Family on Wednesday; Both the U.S. Army & the Killeen Police Department Are Looking for Him
Thank you to those who continue to help us care for our teammate.
SGT Elder Fernandes was last seen at his off post residence located in Killeen this past Monday, Aug 17 2020. We continue to search with CID, his Family members, and local police departments. pic.twitter.com/njbrN8ICl1
— 1st Cavalry Division (@1stCavalryDiv) August 21, 2020
The Killeen Police Department published a news release about Fernandes’ disappearance asking for help from the public. It wrote that Fernandes hasn’t been seen or heard from since Monday, August 17. The 23-year-old’s family members told officers on Wednesday, August 19, that he was last seen when he was dropped off by his staff sergeant at his home in the 2700 block of Woodlands Drive.
The U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Division also posted on its Twitter page: “We are seeking your help in locating Sgt. Elder Fernandes. Please contact the Fort Hood Military Police at 254-288-1170 or US Army CID at 254-287-2722, if you have any information on his whereabouts.” The post was accompanied by a missing soldier alert:
We are seeking your help in locating Sgt. Elder Fernandes.
Please contact the Fort Hood Military Police at 254-288-1170 or US Army CID at 254-287-2722, if you have any information on his whereabouts. pic.twitter.com/81I1SEx9hl
— 1st Cavalry Division (@1stCavalryDiv) August 20, 2020
The Fort Hood Twitter account also posted a call for information on missing soldier Fernandes, writing that he is “5’4″, 135lbs and last seen wearing black #Army PT shorts, T-shirt and red shoes” alongside a series of photos of Fernandes:
INFORMATION SOUGHT ON #MISSING SOLDIER
If you have seen ELDER FERNANDES or have info as to his whereabouts, call #FortHood MPs @ 254-288-1170 or US Army CID @ 254-287-2722. He is 5'4", 135lbs and last seen wearing black #Army PT shorts, T-shirt and red shoes.#Missing #BOLO pic.twitter.com/u7DdMru92n
— Fort Hood (@forthood) August 21, 2020
2. His Aunt Has Publicly Appealed for Information on His Whereabouts, Saying He ‘Has a Heart of Gold’
Fernandes is originally from Brockton, Massachusetts. According to his aunt, Isabel Fernandes, he had just signed a new lease but hadn’t yet picked up the keys to the apartment. She told ABC13 that Fernandes’ car with his belongings was found at the base. She told the outlet:
This is very, very unusual. He has been in touch with us since last week. I personally spoke to him Friday morning. He spoke with his mom this past Sunday and he promised he would call on Monday. Monday came and went and he didn’t call, and he didn’t answer calls from anyone else. Tuesday, no calls and my sister ended up flying down there yesterday, and still we haven’t heard from him.
His aunt continued, “We are here all worried. He has a big family and we need to find him and we need to find him alive.” She also posted about her nephew’s disappearance on Facebook, writing that he is “more than my nephew, he is more like my son, someone I saw born and grow into a wonderful young man, someone that has a heart of gold, his heart is so big that he joined the Army to protect and serve.”
3. Fernandes Is a Nuclear Specialist With the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood & His Mother Flew to Texas to Help With the Search
Help me find a friend…
Elder Fernandes last seen at Fort Hood after being discharged from Darnell Hospital on Monday at 3:30 PM. He has a right arm sleeve tat and wears glasses. He wears hats with the bill forward. If anyone knows anything please reach out to me. Please share. pic.twitter.com/R7NhYkfmWw
— Seth Borchardt (@Sethanardo) August 21, 2020
Fernandes is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, according to CBS DFW. He has been in the military since at least 2016, as his mother, Ailina Neves, has posted Facebook photos of Fernandes in uniform as early as November 2016.
Fernandes’ mother flew down to Fort Hood to push officials in the search. Isabel, Fernandes’ aunt, wrote that Fernandes’ mother is “in agony right now in Texas, she is in an unknown city and can’t find her baby boy, she does not know where to start looking, she needs the Public and law enforcement to step up and help.” She also wrote that Fernandes’ father is in Cape Verde waiting to hear news.
Texas Equusearch, a non-profit search and rescue organization founded in 2000 and based in Dickinson, Texas, just outside Houston, has joined the search for Fernandes. Their Facebook post about the disappearance adds that he had a full sleeve tattoo on his left arm. According to KCENTV, Fort Hood officials have already searched the entire division area including headquarter buildings, parking lots and motor pools.
4. Fernandes Had Just Been Released From Hospital, Though No Reason Was Provided for His Hospitalization
KCENTV spoke to Fernandes’ mother, who said he had just been released from the hospital. She told the outlet, “We’ve been talking since last Tuesday. He’s been in the hospital since Tuesday. We’ve been talking every day, two-three times a day, and for him to get out of the hospital and nowhere to be found. it’s so much concern, worry. Its a nightmare right now.”
There is no confirmed information available at this time about his reason for hospitalization. According to a press release by the 1st Cavalry Division shared by Massachusetts State Representative Liz Miranda, Fernandes is described as a “missing high risk soldier.”
Shortly after the U.S. Army publicly announced Fernandes’ disappearance and asked the public for information, it revealed that there is an ongoing investigation into “abusive sexual contact” and confirmed that Fernandes was the victim. In a statement to CNN, a 1st Cavalry Division public affairs officer, Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, said:
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. The unit also facilitated his transfer from a unit who has recently deployed to a different unit within the brigade to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.
5. His Disappearance Is the Latest in a String of Incidents at the Army Base in the Past Year
We join the Guillen family today in grief and mourning as we come to terms with the loss of one of our own, Spc Vanessa Guillen. To us, Vanessa was an example of all that is best in our Nation. We are all proud to have had the privilege of serving with such a Soldier as Vanessa. pic.twitter.com/p55kKslBJc
— Fort Hood (@forthood) August 14, 2020
Fernandes’ disappearance comes after a string of publicized deaths in the past year at the army base, 11 in total with foul play suspected in five of them. The most high-profile case is that of Vanessa Guillen, 20, who federal and military investigators say was killed and dismembered by another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, the New York Post reported. Guillen went missing on April 22 and her remains were found in early July, shortly after Robinson took his own life.
Officials found the remains of 24-year-old Fort Hood soldier Gregory Wedel-Morales in a Killeen field on June 19. Wedel-Morales had been missing since last August. Fox News reported that U.S. Army officials suspect foul play in his death. In May 2020, another Fort Hood soldier, 27-year-old Pfc. Brandon Scott Rosecrans, was found dead of a gunshot wound about 13 miles from the post, Army Times reported. His body was found near his Jeep, which had been set ablaze. A Killeen-area couple was recently arrested and charged in connection with Rosecrans’ death.
Most recently, two Fort Hood soldiers died in separate incidents near the base. Sgt. Bradley Moore, a 36-year-old Texas Army National Guard soldier, died on August 13 during a training accident at the base. On August 12, 22-year-old Spc. Cole Jakob Aton was hit by a vehicle when he was attempting to direct traffic around a minor accident. He died of his injuries at the scene, KCENTV reported.