A Fort Hood soldier who reported being sexually abused and then went missing has been found dead hanging from a tree, his family’s lawyer says

Image
Sgt. Elder Fernandes. Fort Hood
  • Sgt. Elder Fernandes, a 23-year-old Fort Hood soldier, was found dead on Tuesday, his family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, told The Boston Globe.
  • Fernandes had accused a male superior officer of sexually assaulting him in April but was harassed for doing so, his mother told The Globe.
  • He was hospitalized on August 11 and was last seen by a staff sergeant who drove him home on August 17. His family said they didn’t know why he was in the hospital to begin with.
  • “I just can’t go back to Boston without my son. I need answers,” his mother, Ailina Fernandes, told The Globe.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A 23-year-old Fort Hood soldier who had reported being sexually abused and went missing more than a week ago was found dead on Tuesday evening.

Natalie Khawam, the lawyer for Sgt. Elder Fernandes’ family, told The Boston Globe that his body was found hanging from a tree about 25 miles from the Army base in Killeen, Texas.

A person walking by a railroad track in Temple came across Fernandes’ body, and investigators identified him with his driver’s licence found in a black backpack nearby, Khawam said.

“Our worst nightmare has happened,” Khawam said in a statement to The Globe. “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.”

The statement said Khawam was seeking a congressional investigation of Fort Hood.

Fernandes was discharged from the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Centre on August 17 and given a ride home by his staff sergeant,KWKT-TV reported last week, citing Fernandes’ family and the Killeen Police Department. His family said they didn’t know why he was in the hospital.

He didn’t show up to work on August 18 and was reported missing. Fernandes’ car was found in his unit’s parking lot, Fort Hood said in a press release.

‘I can’t resume my life not knowing’

Fernandes’ mother, Ailina Fernandes, told The Globe that when she flew to Texas last week, she was unaware that her son had accused a male superior officer of groping him in a supply closet in April, or that reporting this resulted in him being harassed and bullied.

She also said she didn’t know that he had become suicidal or that he had been transferred to another unit because of safety concerns.

She told the newspaper that her son had been tight-lipped on the phone, saying only that he wanted to “clear his mind.” She said he told her that he would call her after being discharged from the hospital, but she didn’t hear from him again.

“I just can’t go back to Boston without my son,” Ailina Fernandes told The Globe. “I need answers. I can’t resume my life not knowing.”

Elder Fernandes is not the only soldier who has been reported missing from Fort Hood. The nonprofit Missing People in America said that nine others had vanished in 2020 alone.

Pfc. Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance and death made headlines earlier this year. Her family said she was sexually abused. Fort Hood denied the allegation, saying there was no “credible information” to back it.

The Army denied any link between his disappearance and a sexual-abuse investigation

Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a 1st Cavalry Division spokesman,told NBC News over the weekend about “an open investigation of abusive sexual contact involving Sgt. Fernandes.”

“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,” he added.

However, Fort Hood said in a statement on Saturday that Fernandes “left on his own accord” and that there was “no connection between the disappearance of Sgt. Fernandes and any other ongoing cases at Fort Hood.”

Ailina Fernandes said she didn’t believe this.

“Elder is a lovely family boy, he wouldn’t run away without letting us know where he is at,” she told The Globe on Tuesday, adding, “If the Army drove Elder that crazy to make Elder do something like that, then shame on them, because that is not the Elder I know.”

The Globe said the military was denying Ailina Fernandes information about her son’s hospitalisation because of health-privacy laws. But Khawam, who also represented Guillen’s family, is demanding answers.

“People have to be held accountable for what they have done here,” Khawam said. “Enough is enough. These families all need answers.”

Fort Hood did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for a comment.