A Fort Hood soldier who has been missing since Monday had been transferred to a different unit because he was the victim in an “abusive sexual contact” investigation, the Army said.
Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a 1st Cavalry Division public affairs officer, told CNN in a statement that there is an “open investigation of abusive sexual contact” involving Sgt. Elder Fernandes and confirmed that Fernandes was the victim in the investigation.
“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,” Brautigam said. “The unit also facilitated his transfer from a unit who has recently deployed to a different unit within the brigade to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.”
Fernandes, 23, is assigned to a unit in the 1st Cavalry Division. He was last seen Monday afternoon by his staff sergeant when he was dropped off at his home in Killeen, Texas, the soldier’s family told police.
The US Army said Thursday it was asking for the public’s help in finding Fernandes, according to a statement from Fort Hood.
“Our primary concern is for his health and well-being,” the statement said.
Fernandes is about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and weighs approximately 133 pounds, according to the Killeen Police Department, which is investigating his disappearance. Police said he was last seen wearing a black Army physical training shirt and shorts with red athletic shoes.
“This is very, very unusual,” Isabel Fernandes, the missing soldier’s aunt, told CNN affiliate KTRK. She last spoke with her nephew last Friday morning and said that he’d called his mother on Sunday. Fernandes promised to call again on Monday, his aunt said.
“Monday came and went and he didn’t call, and he didn’t answer calls from anyone else. Tuesday, no calls and my sister ended up flying down there yesterday, and still we haven’t heard from him,” she told KTRK.
According to Fort Hood, Fernandes is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade. Finding him is a “top priority for the Division,” Fort Hood’s statement said.
“We have completed a search of the entire division area, to include motorpools, parking lots, and headquarters buildings,” the statement said, “and the unit is in contact with the Soldiers Family [sic], the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and civilian law enforcement agencies to help find him as we continue our search.”
Anyone who has seen Fernandes or knows where he might be is asked to contact Killeen police, military police at Fort Hood or the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.
“At this time we do not suspect foul play in the disappearance of Sgt. Fernandes,” the 1st Cavalry Division said in a Twitter post on Friday.
The search and recovery organization Texas EquuSearch confirmed Friday that it had joined the search effort for Fernandes.
This year, there have been a series of incidents in which Fort Hood soldiers have vanished and died, perhaps the most high-profile of which was the killing of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. The main suspect in her disappearance — another Fort Hood soldier — killed himself when he was confronted by investigators, according to CID.
In the wake of her death, the Army announced an independent review board made up of five civilians who would review the “command climate and culture” at Fort Hood.
Some soldiers have died under mysterious circumstances, including Pvt. Gregory Scott Morales, whose skeletal remains were found in a Killeen field in mid-June — 10 months after he’d vanished. Fort Hood said in a statement at the time that foul play is suspected in his death.