Fort Hood soldier found dead was 'humiliated after reporting sexual abuse'
A FORT Hood soldier found hanged from a tree this week was "humiliated after reporting sexual abuse" at the infamous base, his family's attorney said.
Elder Fernandes, 23, was found hanged on Tuesday – more than a week after he disappeared in Texas, the Army said.
Before his disappearance, the Army revealed that Fernandes had reported alleged sexual harassment and it was being investigated.
As Fernandes became the 12th Fort Hood soldier to turn up dead this year, his family attorney, Natalie Kwam, alleged that he struggled after reporting he was inappropriately touched by a male superior in May.
"He was humiliated, he was embarrassed, he couldn’t even tell his mom. He didn’t want to tell anyone,” Kwam told The Enterprise on Wednesday.
“He was afraid. He was ashamed by this.”
The news of Fernandes' death came as:
- His mother Ailina Fernandes pleaded with the public to help her find her missing son
- Fernandes had reported instances of sexual abuse at the scandal-hit military base
- Cole Jakob Acton, 22, was hit by a car and killed while directing traffic near Fort Hood
- National Guard soldier Sgt Bradley Moore died while conducting land navigation training
- Brandon Michael Oliveras was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of Fort Hood soldier Pvt First Class Brandon Rosecrans
Kwam alleged that after reporting the incident, Fernandes was transferred to another unit – and then was bullied, hazed, and harassed as word spread.
"Elder signed up to serve our country, he did not sign up to be sexually assaulted by his sergeant, and then bullied and hazed for reporting it!" the soldier's aunt, Isabel Neves Fernandes, wrote in a Facebook post the day he was found.
The Army's 1st Cavalry Division said officials "do not suspect foul play" in Fernandes' disappearance.
“We take every sexual assault seriously,” Major General Jeffery Broadwater said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“They [cases] are not investigated by us, they are investigated by an outside organization, CID, in order to do that and once those facts are brought out then we deal with each and every one of those occurred, accordingly, so that justice is served," Broadwater added.
Special Agent Damon Phelps said that the alleged attacker passed a polygraph test and "we found no witnesses that could corroborate Sgt Fernandes' allegations."
Fernandes' death and disappearance came after the discovery of soldier Vanessa Guillen's remains in July.
TIMELINE OF FORT HOOD SOLDIER DEATHS AND DISAPPEARANCES
A dozen soldiers from the Texas base have died so far in 2020.
- Specialist Shelby Tyler Jones: Fatally shot off-base on March 1
- Specialist Christopher Wayne Sawyer: Found dead on March 5 at on-post residence
- Private First Class Freddy Delacruz Jr: Found dead from gunshot wounds at an apartment on March 14
- Private First Class Brandon Scott Rosecrans: Found fatally shot near Fort Hood on May 18
- Private Gregory Wedel-Morales: Disappeared August 2019, remains found June 19
- Private First Class Vanessa Guillen: Disappeared on April 22, remains found in shallow grave on July 1
- Specialist Aaron David Robinson: Shot himself when cops tried to contact him about Guillen's murder on July 1
- Private Mejhor Morta: Found unresponsive at a lake near the military base on July 17
- Sgt Bradley Moore: Died on August 13 during a training exercise
- Specialist Francisco Gilberto Hernandez-Vargas: Found drowned on August 2 after a boating accident the day before
- Specialist Cole Jakob Aton: Died on August 12 after being hit by a car while directing traffic near Fort Hood
- Sgt Elder Fernandes: Disappeared on August 17, found hanged around 30 miles from base on August 26
Her family has also claimed that Guillen – who went missing in April – was sexually harassed prior to her disappearance and death.
As officials tried to contact Specialist Aaron David Robinson about Guillen's death and disappearance, he shot himself.
It's believed Robinson hit Guillen in the head with a hammer before dismembering and burying her body.
Several other soldiers' remains were discovered as officials searched for Guillen.
A total of 12 Fort Hood soldiers have turned up dead this year.
The soldiers who have died include: Fernandes, Guillen, Robinson, Specialist Cole Jakob Aton, Private Gregory Wedel-Morales, Private Mejhor Morta, Specialist Francisco Gilberto Hernandez-Vargas, Private First Class Brandon Scott Rosecrans, Private First Class Freddy Delacruz Jr, Specialist Christopher Wayne Sawyer, and Specialist Shelby Tyler Jones.
Fernandes' death remains under investigation by the Army and local police departments.
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