Missing Fort Hood soldier’s body found hanging in tree, family lawyer says

Austin, Texas — 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 Tuesday.

Identification found with the body in Temple, Texas, indicated the man may be missing Fort Hood soldier Sgt. Elder Fernandes, according to a statement from local police. Forensic confirmation was pending.

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 isn’t 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, an attorney 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 the 23-year-old man’s driver’s license inside.

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.

Fort Hood officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The Army and the Fernandes family, from Brockton, Massachusetts, had asked the public for help in finding the missing soldier.

In a statement late Tuesday night to The Boston Globe, Khawam said, “Our worst nightmare has happened. 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.

“We will not stop until we find out what happened to Elder,” the statement said. “We must demand a Congressional Investigation of Ft. Hood. We must protect our soldiers!”

In a separate statement, Khawam said, “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.”

Khawam also represents 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 assaults, harassment and murder. He ordered an independent probe of Fort Hood in July, after authorities said Guillen was slain.

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