Sen. Elizabeth Warren and several of her colleagues are calling for an official investigation into the death of U.S. Army Sergeant Elder Fernandes who was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. After the sergeant reported that he had been groped by a male superior, his body was discovered weeks later approximately 25 miles from the base.
In 2016, Fernandes joined the U.S. Army and became a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist with the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. Earlier this year, Fernandes reported that a superior had inappropriately touched him.
Although Fernandes was transferred to a new unit, he reportedly suffered harassment, bullying, and hazing as word spread of the incident. On August 10, he failed to report for duty at work.
Between August 11 and August 17, Fernandes was admitted to the Carl R. Darnell Army Medical Center. According to Isabel Fernandes, her nephew was hospitalized because he felt suicidal.
On August 17, Fernandes was released from the hospital. Members of his unit were reportedly the last people to see him alive before his body was discovered hanging from a tree on August 25.
In response to the disappearance and death of Fernandes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Edward Markey, along with Reps. Richard Neal, James McGovern, Stephen Lynch, Joseph Kennedy III, Katherine Clark, Ayanna Pressley, William Keating, Seth Moulton, and Lori Trahan formally requested that the Department of Defense Inspector General conduct a complete and thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to Fernandes’ death.
“We are heartbroken by SGT Fernandes’ death. As Members of Congress representing SGT Fernandes and his family, we demand a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death, including allegations of abusive sexual contact, bullying, and retaliation,” the legislators wrote in their recent letter to Acting Inspector General Sean O’Donnell. “We also ask you to investigate the Army’s response to SGT Fernandes’ disappearance and whether Army leaders kept the Fernandes family appropriately informed about the search for their missing relative until he was found on August 25.
“We must do more than grieve the loss of SGT Fernandes—we must seek justice and answers for his family. That starts with a full and complete investigation.”
According to Special Agent Damon Phelps of the Army’s criminal investigative command, an investigation into Fernandes’ allegations of sexual assault was conducted and found to be “unsubstantiated.” Phelps also confirmed that Fernandes was informed of this decision prior to his disappearance.
Within the last year, at least 24 people stationed at Fort Hood have died. The deaths include off-duty accidents, suicides, homicides, natural causes, and drowning.
On June 30, the dismembered remains of Vanessa Guillén were discovered after she was allegedly murdered by Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who fatally shot himself before law enforcement could apprehend him. According to Guillén’s family, she had planned to file a sexual harassment complaint prior to her murder at Fort Hood.