Autopsy: Fort Hood soldier’s death was suicide by hanging

Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes, whose disappearance prompted a week-long search hanged himself,...
Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes, whose disappearance prompted a week-long search hanged himself, according to a preliminary autopsy report released Tuesday.(U.S. Department of Defense via CNN)
Published: Sep. 1, 2020 at 8:05 PM EDT
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FORT HOOD, Texas (KWTX) – Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes, whose disappearance prompted a week-long search hanged himself, according to a preliminary autopsy report released Tuesday.

Fernandes’ body was found on Aug. 25 hanging in a tree near Sammons Park in Temple.

He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade whose troops were involved in the search.

Family members said Fernandes’ staff sergeant dropped him off on the afternoon on Aug. 17 at his home in the 2700 block of Woodlands Drive in Killeen, police said earlier.

That was the last time Fernandes was seen.

Fort Hood confirmed an open investigation of “abuse sexual contact” involving

Fernandes who had reported in May he was grabbed in the buttocks.

But officials said during a news conference the day after the body was found an investigation that just recently ended determined that sexual assault claims were unsubstantiated.

Members of Fernandes’ unit noticed a change in his behavior and that he was struggling beginning in March, officials said.

He failed to report for duty on Aug. 10 and after the unit made contact with him he was admitted to the post hospital where he stayed until Aug. 17 when he was discharged, officials said.

The battery of his car was dead, however, so an NCO drove him to his home in Killeen, they said.

The NCO didn’t escort him inside because Fernandes stayed outside to smoke a cigarette, officials said.

Fernandes’ body was discovered just before 6 p.m. Aug. 25 along railroad tracks on the south side of the park.

Fernandes, of Brockton, Mass, joined the Army in 2016 and had been assigned since April 2019 to the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade.

The disappearance was another of a string dating back to last year.

Pvt. 2nd Class Gregory Wedel-Morales disappeared on Aug. 19, 2019.

His skeletal remains were discovered on June 19 in a field in Killeen.

On June 30, contractors working on a fence along the Leon River discovered what appeared to be human remains that were later identified as those of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, who was last seen sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on April 22 in the parking lot of her 3rd Cavalry Regiment Engineer Squadron Headquarters.

She was murdered by another soldier, court documents show.

Fort Hood Pvt. Mejhor Morta, 26, of Pensacola, Fla., was discovered missing on July 16.

He was found dead the next day in the area of Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

A preliminary autopsy report indicated his death was consistent with drowning.

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