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Fort Drum soldier faces murder charge in death of soldier who had been reported missing

Cpl. Hayden Harris was found dead on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

U.S. ARMY

By GEOFF HERBERT | syracuse.com | Published: December 21, 2020

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — A Fort Drum soldier will be charged with murder in the shooting death of a fellow soldier, according to multiple reports.

U.S. Army Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20, was found dead Saturday in a wooded area in Byram Township, N.J., after being reported missing. Sussex County First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller said Sunday that another soldier was being held in Upstate New York where he is awaiting an extradition hearing to New Jersey.

CBS reports the other soldier has been identified as Jamaal Mellish, who was also stationed at Fort Drum.

Mueller said Harris, 20, left the military base Thursday night to meet Mellish, 23, in nearby Watertown, N.Y., for “some type of vehicle exchange.” Authorities believe the meeting escalated somehow and Mellish “abducted” Harris and killed him.

Formal criminal charges are expected to be released Monday, including murder and weapons charges, Mueller said.

Mueller told The New Jersey Herald that Mellish allegedly took Harris in a 2017 white Chevrolet Silverado and drove him to the New York City area and eventually across the state line into New Jersey. Army officials previously said Harris was driving a red 2016 Ford Mustang with Tennessee license plates, from his home state; the Silverado also belonged to Harris, Sgt. Daniel DeWald of the Byram Town Police Department said.

Authorities said a juvenile, whose identity has not been released, was also in the vehicle.

Harris’ body was discovered Saturday when Byram firefighters noticed personal belongings near a cul-de-sac, including documents and a pair of shoes, and blood. Responding police officers found Harris in a nearby wooded area.

Mellish is currently in custody in Jefferson County. NNY360 reports Mellish was stopped while driving the Silverado by a Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputy late Friday or early Saturday morning, and turned over to Fort Drum MPs.

Additional details about Mellish were not immediately available.

Mueller said Harris and Mellish have no known connections to Sussex County, located some 300 miles from Watertown.

Harris was a 2018 graduate of McNairy Central High School in Guys, Tennessee. He joined the Army in March 2019 and arrived at Fort Drum four months later; he was an infantryman in the 89th Cavalry regiment of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

According to the Herald, Harris’ honors included two Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

“We are devastated,” said Brigadier Gen. Brett Funck, acting commander for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division. “It was well known here that Corporal Harris was a great soldier.”

“As we share our grief with his friends and family, I hear again and again how he was also — and most importantly — a really wonderful, caring person. His death is a tremendous loss for his loved ones, this division and our nation.”

After his death, Harris was promoted from specialist to corporal. He is survived by his mother, father and sister.

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