Heartbroken family of Sgt. Elder Fernandes still searching for missing Fort Hood soldier

This photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Elder Fernandes. Fort Hood officials have issued a missing soldier alert for Fernandes.


By CODY SHEPARD | The Enterprise | Published: August 25, 2020

BROCKTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The family of Sgt. Elder Fernandes says it is heartbroken and devastated as the search for the soldier continues a week after he went missing from Fort Hood.

"It's been a week today since anyone had any contact with Elder Fernandes and this is HEART BROKEN and DEVASTATING for us," Fernandes' aunt, Isabel Neves Fernandes, wrote in a Facebook post Monday morning. "We need to find him, we need to find him alive and soon."

Elder Fernandes, 23, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, was last seen by members of his unit on Aug. 17 at a residence in Killeen, Texas.

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When Fernandes didn't report to work the next day, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command opened an investigation and commenced a search.

The Army says "information gathered from fellow soldiers so far" leads officials to believe Elder Fernandes "may have left Fort Hood on his own accord."

But his family disputes that.

"We NEVER said or believe that Fernandes left on his own without saying anything to the family," Isabel Fernandes wrote in a Sunday night Facebook post.

The Enterprise sent multiple requests for comment to the family's attorney, Natalie Khawam, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

When reached for comment, Isabel Fernandes was unavailable to speak until after deadline for this story.

Khawam is calling for a Congressional investigation of Fort Hood in the wake of several disappearances of soldiers, including at least two that involved foul play.

The calls for an investigation come as Fernandes is the third Fort Hood soldier to go missing within the last year.

She said the soldiers at the Texas base and their families deserve to know the truth.

"We must fight for them, like they fight for us," Khawam said in a statement.

Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, went missing from Fort Hood in April. Her body was found in July. A fellow soldier, Aaron David Robinson, suspected in Guillen's disappearance, killed himself, Army officials have said.

Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24, was reported missing from the base Aug. 20, 2019. His remains were found June 21 in a field in Killeen, near Fort Hood. Foul play is suspected in his death, which remains under investigation.

"Foul play is not suspected in the disappearance of Sgt. Elder Fernandes," Fort Hood said in a statement Saturday.

Officials said Saturday there is an "open investigation of abusive sexual contact" involving Elder Fernandes, and that he had been transferred to another unit after reporting sexual abuse.

"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," said Fort Hood public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam.

Brautigam said Fernandes had been transferred "to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals."

State Rep. Liz Miranda said in a Twitter post that Fernandes' mother and brother are in Texas assisting in the search. She said Fernandes' car was found with all of his belongings and he had recently signed a new lease and never picked up the keys to his apartment.

"Our priority remains to ensure Sgt. Fernandes' safety and we ask him to reach out to his leadership, his family, the local police or a nearby hospital or clinic so we can ensure he receives the care he needs," Fort Hood said in a Sunday statement.

Fernandes, who was born in Cape Verde, joined the Army in September 2016. He is 5 feet, 5 inches tall, weighs about 133 pounds, has black hair and brown eyes and was last seen wearing a black Army physical training T-shirt and shorts with black, orange and yellow athletic shoes, Army officials said.

Anyone with information on Fernandes' disappearance or who sees him is asked to contact the Killeen Police Department at 254-526-TIPS (8477), the Fort Hood CID Office at 254-287-2722, the Fort Hood Military Police at 254-287-4001 or their local police department. Tips can be submitted anonymously at bellcountycrimestoppers.com or cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html.

"Elder Fernandes, if you are out there reading this, we know (you) are scared, please contact your mother or me or your siblings, anyone you trust, we love you and we will protect you," Isabel Fernandes wrote Monday.

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