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'My heart breaks': Brockton, Mass., to hold vigil for Fort Hood soldier Elder Fernandes

This photo provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Elder Fernandes.

U.S. ARMY

By MARC LAROCQUE | The Enterprise | Published: August 27, 2020

BROCKTON, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — As his family seeks answers surrounding the young soldier's death — the latest in a mounting toll of service members lost at Fort Hood — members of the Cape Verdean community and others from Brockton are paying tribute to one of their own, Army Sgt. Elder Fernandes.

A vigil is planned for 7 p.m. on Friday outside Brockton City Hall in memory of Fernandes, a 23-year-old Cape Verdean American, soldier and a Brockton High School graduate, who was found dead near Fort Hood on Tuesday after going missing on Aug. 17. The family of Fernandes is calling for a congressional investigation into the death of Fernandes and other soldiers at Fort Hood this past year, including two other soldiers who were found dead in June, and three fatal shootings that occurred earlier in 2020.

"It's devastating to the community," said Councilor-at-large Moises Rodrigues, who is also executive director of the Brockton Cape Verdean Association. "Here's a young man we are all proud of. To come to find out he died while stationed at an American base is devastating. There are no words you can describe the disappointment of losing one of the bright stars we had in this community."

Councilor-at-large Tina Cardoso, who is also Cape Verdean, said the vigil was originally planned earlier this week to pray for Fernandes' safe return after he was reported missing. Cardoso said the Army should have done more for Fernandes after he reported sexual assault by a superior, which led to a military investigation that found his claims unsubstantiated.

Natalie Khawam, a lawyer for the Fernandes family, said the sergeant was harassed and hazed within his unit after reporting a sexual assault in May. Khawam said Fort Hood has "blood on their hands," making him feel humiliated and embarassed for reporting the sexual assault.

"We really feel badly for this family. It's a horrible situation," said Cardoso, who is helping to organize the vigil. "As a mom, my heart breaks for that mother. It's very painful. It's upsetting that he went to serve his country and for this to happen to him."

The police department in Temple, Texas, 25 miles from Fort Hood where his body was found hanging from a tree on Tuesday, said there are no indications of foul play in Fernandes' death. 

Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan announced on Wednesday that he is lowering American flags in the city to half-staff in honor of Fernandes.

"The death of U.S. Army Sgt. Elder Fernandes is a tragedy for our city, commonwealth, and country," Sullivan said. "On behalf of the City of Brockton, our thoughts and prayers go out to Sgt. Fernandes, his family, and friends."

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she wants a congressional investigation into the deaths of Fernandes and other soldiers who have vanished and died at Fort Hood. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, are supporting the call for an investigation.

"I am heartsick for Sgt. Elder Fernandes' family and his hometown of Brockton," Warren said. "I am working with my colleagues in the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation to demand a full, transparent investigation into this tragedy and the conditions at Fort Hood."

Rodrigues, who served in the U.S. Navy, said he knows the Fernandes family well, coming from the same area of Cape Verde as them. Fernandes came to the U.S. from Praia as an elementary school student in 2008, first living in Braintree, before moving to Brockton a few years later and graduated from Brockton High School in 2015.

"It's disheartening to know we're preparing soldiers to fight the enemies of the U.S., yet we are losing them at American bases," Rodrigues said. "I believe a real investigation must take place to find out what's going on in that base. Why is it that we've had so many cases of violence at an American base? We need to have answers."

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