Missing Fort Hood soldier died by suicide, medical examiner rules


A Fort Hood soldier who was found dead last month after being reported missing died by suicide, a Dallas medical examiner determined.

Sgt. Elder Fernandes was reported missing Aug. 19, and his body was found late last month in Temple, Texas, about 30 miles from Fort Hood, authorities said. He had last been seen two days earlier at his home in nearby Killeen, they said.

Fort Hood has been plagued by a series of troubling incidents. Spc. Vanessa Guillen, went missing and was later found dead. A suspect in that case, Fort Hood soldier Aaron Robinson, shot and killed himself as police moved in to arrest him. A woman that officials identified as Robinson's girlfriend was arrested and has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of tampering with evidence.

Other soldiers at the base have also recently died by suicide.

Soldiers assigned to the base were arrested in a prostitution sting.

The commander at Fort Hood was removed from his position early this month.

Days before he was reported missing, Fernandes had been transferred to a different unit after he had alleged that he was the victim of "abusive sexual contact," U.S. Army officials have previously said.

Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a 1st Cavalry Division spokesman, said that the unit sexual assault response coordinator had been working closely with Fernandes. Fernandes was transferred to another unit "to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals."

On Aug. 26, after Fernandes' body was discovered, Damon Phelps, a Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent, said the soldier's "behavior spiraled downward" after making his report of sexual assault. The allegation was "unsubstantiated" by an Army investigation, Phelps said.

He had been in the hospital for four or five days prior to his disappearance, said his mother, Ailiana Fernandes. She said it was unclear why he was in the hospital.

Phelps said Fernandes "received medical care" for a week before his disappearance.