A body authorities believe is that of an Army soldier was found late Tuesday about 30 miles from the Texas base where he was stationed, according to local police.
Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, was reported missing on Aug. 19 by Killeen and Army police.
His identification was found with the body. Confirmation of the identification is pending and an autopsy has been ordered.
Foul play is not suspected, police said, but the investigation is ongoing.
Fernandes’ mother, Ailiana Fernandes, and aunt Isabel Fernandes spoke to The Associated Press late Monday, less than a day before the police announcement.
His mother said she last heard from her son on Aug. 16, the evening before he was set to be released from Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, where he was receiving psychiatric care.
He told her he would call the next day, but she never heard from him again, she said.
Fernandes is the third soldier from Fort Hood to go missing in the past year and the fourth to die. The two other missing soldiers were found dead in July.
Isabel Fernandes, the soldier’s aunt, said the family has not been told the reason for his stay in the psychiatric wing at the Army medical facility or whether it was voluntary. She said the family has not seen his medical records due to privacy protections.
Natalie Khawam, who is 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.
“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, who is also representing the family of Vanessa Guillen, another Fort Hood soldier who was found dead after going missing.
Fort Hood officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Elder Fernandes enlisted in the Army in 2016, according to his mother, who lives in Massachusetts. After a three-year deployment in Germany, he returned in December and was sent to Fort Hood.
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.
U.S. Army officials confirmed in a statement that Elder Fernandes reported an incident of “abusive sexual contact” and that investigation is ongoing.
According to Isabel Fernandes, the family was told by Army officials that a 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 children, 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.
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