The body of Sgt. Elder Fernandes, a Massachusetts native who went missing from the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base in Texas more than a week ago, was found Tuesday evening, police said.
“Our worst nightmare has happened,” the family’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, said in a statement. “One of our own, Sergeant Elder Fernandes has been found dead today. We are sickened by this tragedy that has happened one too many times. We are heartbroken for Elder Fernandes’s family.”
Khawam said Army police told family members about the discovery late Tuesday night.
Fernandes’ backpack was with him, Khawam said, and police found the 23-year-old man’s driver’s license inside.
The Temple Police Department said it responded to a medical call along railroad tracks about 28 miles from the Fort Hood base, at about 5:36 p.m. Tuesday after a person reported seeing a man near the tracks.
“Upon officers’ arrival, it was determined that the subject had been deceased for some period of time,” the department said in its statement.
Identification found at the scene indicates the deceased victim is Fernandes, but police say no forensic confirmation has been made yet.
Police say there does not appear to be any foul play involved in Fernandes’ death at this time.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fernandes family during this challenging time,” Temple Police Chief Shawn Reynolds said.
Fernandes, 23, a 2015 graduate of Brockton High School and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, was last seen by members of his unit on Aug. 17 at a residence in Killeen, Texas.
When Fernandes didn’t report to work the next day, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command opened an investigation and commenced a search. Fernandes’ mother, brother and aunt flew to Texas to assist in the search.
The Army said “information gathered from fellow soldiers so far” led officials to believe Fernandes “may have left Fort Hood on his own accord.”
But family members have disputed that.
“We NEVER said or believe that Fernandes left on his own without saying anything to the family,” Isabel Fernandes wrote in a Sunday night Facebook post.
Khawam is calling for a Congressional investigation of Fort Hood in the wake of several disappearances of soldiers, including at least two that involved foul play.
“We will not stop until we find out what happened to Elder,” Khawam said in her statement. “We demand a Congressional Investigation of Ft. Hood. We must protect our soldiers! We demand Justice for Elder!”
The calls for an investigation come as Fernandes is the third Fort Hood soldier to go missing within the last year.
Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, went missing from Fort Hood in April. Her body was found in July. A fellow soldier, Aaron David Robinson, suspected in Guillen’s disappearance, killed himself, Army officials have said.
Vanessa Guillen:A timeline of the search
Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24, was reported missing from the base Aug. 20, 2019. His remains were found June 21 in a field in Killeen, near Fort Hood. Foul play is suspected in his death, which remains under investigation.
Khawam told The Enterprise Tuesday that the Fernandes family was speaking with the office of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
“We’d like to have her get involved and demand a congressional investigation of Fort Hood and how they have handled missing persons and deaths on the bases, especially when it comes to keeping military families in the dark,” Khawam said. “They have continuously evaded questions. We don’t want the Army investigating itself.”
Officials had said there was an “open investigation of abusive sexual contact” involving Elder Fernandes, and that he had been transferred to another unit after reporting sexual abuse.
“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,” said Fort Hood public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam.
Brautigam said Fernandes had been transferred “to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.”
Follow Marc Larocque on Twitter: @cshepard_ENT.