Foul play is not suspected in the disappearance of Sgt. Elder Fernandes, Fort Hood said Saturday evening.
"Our priority remains getting Sgt. Fernandes back with the people that care about him," said Justin Redfern, commander of the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. "We are concerned for his well-being and want him to continue the care he was receiving before he went missing. Our unit and the Army have the resources to help him."
Fort Hood officials said in a news release Saturday evening that at this time, they do not believe that his disappearance is connected to any other ongoing case at Fort Hood.
An open investigation of “abuse sexual contact” involving Fernandes was confirmed by the military post Saturday morning.
“We can confirm that there is an open investigation of abusive sexual contact involving Sgt. Fernandes,” said 1st Cavalry Division public affairs officer Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam in a statement. “The chain of command takes all allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously. 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 which recently deployed to a different unit within the brigade to ensure Fernandes received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.
“We will provide updates as we are able once Criminal Investigation Division completes their investigation.” said Brautigam.
Fernandes, 23, was last seen by members of his unit on Monday at a residence in Killeen. He did not report to work the following day as scheduled.
Fernandes’ mother, Ailina Fernandes, told news station KCEN that she spoke to Elder recently from a hospital and it is not like him to go missing,
She also said her son has seemed unhappy in the last two to three months being in the Army. Additionally, his only known vehicle was located on base at his unit’s parking lot.
Fernandes is African American, 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 133 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing black Army physical training shirt and shorts with black, orange and yellow athletic shoes.
Killeen police said Fernandes was last seen Monday afternoon when he was dropped off at his house in Killeen.
Information gathered from fellow soldiers so far indicate Fernandes may have left Fort Hood on his own accord.
He is a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade.
The search for Fernandes is ongoing by Fort Hood soldiers, Army investigators, the Killeen Police Department and other state and local law enforcement agencies.
“We are very concerned about the welfare of this soldier and first and foremost we want to ensure he is okay,” Christopher Grey, the spokesman for Criminal Investigation Command, said in a release. “If someone out there has any information, regardless of how trivial you may think it is, we are asking you to contact us immediately.”
Residents can contact the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Command Office at 254-287-2722, the Fort Hood military police desk at 254-287-4001 or contact their local police department.
Herald reporter Thaddeus Imerman contributed to this report.