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The remains of a soldier stationed at Fort Hood who was found dead about 30 miles off the Texas Army base returned home to his family in Massachusetts on Tuesday.
An autopsy report also released Tuesday revealed Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, died from hanging himself, KRQE reported. Fernandes was reported missing on Aug. 19 by Killeen and Army police. His body was found hanging from a tree near railroad tracks on Aug. 25, and he had filed a sexual contact report before he disappeared.
Authorities said no foul play was suspected.
ARMY ANNOUNCES NEW FORT HOOD INVESTIGATION AMID LEADERSHIP CHANGE
Fernandes’ body arrived at Boston Logan International Airport on Tuesday night. Family and friends became visibly emotional as military members removed his casket from the plane and saluted, WHDH reported. His body was then brought home to Brockton, Mass., with military honors.
His death is just one in a recent string of tragedies connected to Fort Hood, which was thrust into the national spotlight after 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillen was bludgeoned to death by a fellow soldier in an armory room at the base.
U.S. Army officials announced changes in the leadership at Fort Hood on Tuesday amid what they said was a widening investigation into Guillen’s murder that has prompted calls for the military to change the way it handles sexual abuse and harassment.
Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV will assume duties as deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Hood starting Wednesday, the Army said in a statement. Army officials said the change was previously scheduled to “enable continuity of command.”
FORT HOOD SOLDIER WHO DISAPPEARED WAS VICTIM OF ALLEGED ABUSIVE SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
The Army also said Tuesday that it would be announcing a new leader of the 1st Armored Division in the coming days. In August, Army leaders delayed the planned transfer of current Fort Hood senior leader Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt to Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas, to take over leadership of the 1st Armored Division, amid the ongoing investigation into whether there were systemic problems at Fort Hood. Command of a division is a key step in an Army officer’s career.
U.S. Army is Sgt. Elder Fernandes. (U.S. Army via AP, File)
Efflandt will not be transferred to Fort Bliss and will remain at Fort Hood for the remainder of the investigation into Fort Hood's leadership.
In a Tuesday press call, U.S. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said they had seen numbers from a recent survey of 53 soldiers from Fort Hood and that 18 of them had reported some type of harassment or assault. He has said in August that Fort Hood has among the highest rates of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the Army but did not provide specific statistics on it or other bases.
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Guillen was reported missing on April 22. Her remains were found on June 30. The soldier suspected of killing her took his own life when confronted by police assisting in the investigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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