Fort Hood Soldier Reported Being Sexually Abused Before Vanishing 1 Week Ago

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A 23-year-old soldier stationed at Texas’ Fort Hood was reported missing nearly a week after he was last seen, according to the U.S. Army, after reporting sexual abuse.

The Army announced on Thursday that its 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade is searching for Sgt. Elder Fernandes, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist assigned to the brigade, according to Fort Hood. Fernandes had reported sexual abuse and had transferred units “to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals” an army official said, according to the Associated Press.

Fort Hood public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam said in a statement to the AP that “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.”

Authorities do not believe foul play led to Fernandes’ disappearance, Fort Hood said Saturday.

After Fernandes was last seen at a residence in Killeen, Texas, on Aug. 17, he didn’t come to work the next day, although his vehicle was found back at his unit’s parking lot. The brigade searched the entire division area, including the buildings and parking lots, but had been unable to find him, and had reached out to U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and civilian law enforcement agencies for help, according to Fort Hood.

Fernandes is the third soldier to have gone missing from Fort Hood in the last year; the two other soldiers were later found dead. Last August, Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24, was reported missing and his remains were found in a field near Fort Hood on June 21. On July 1, Army officials discovered the remains of Vanessa Guillén, 20. Officials believe another soldier, who later died by suicide, bludgeoned her to death. Guillén’s family has said that the soldier who allegedly murdered Guillén also sexually harassed her. Another soldier, Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, was also found dead in July by Stillhouse Lake near Fort Hood, according to the base.

Fort Hood’s commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, was supposed to transfer to Fort Bliss and take leadership of the 1st Armored Division, but the move was put on hold early this year as independent investigators examine whether the base’s leadership created a climate that led to deaths and other violent incidents at the base, and whether there is a “sexual harassment-type toxic environment,” according to the Associated Press.

Massachusetts Rep. Liz Miranda said on Twitter that Fernandes is from Brockton, Mass., and that his mother had flown to Texas to help look for him. Miranda said that Fernandes’ belongings had been found in his car, and that he had recently signed a new lease on an apartment, but never picked up the keys.

TIME | Tara Law | August 23, 2020

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