The problem with Fort Hood: Violence, deaths and disappearances continue as embattled base struggles with scandal

23-year-old Sergeant Elder Fernandes' mysterious disappearance comes in the wake of the deaths of 11 Fort Hood soldiers this year, while foul play is suspected in 5 of those cases


                            The problem with Fort Hood: Violence, deaths and disappearances continue as embattled base struggles with scandal
The III Corps Headquarters on Fort Hood Army Base (Getty Images)

Fort Hood in Texas has come under the scanner yet again over the disappearance of another soldier. This time, the local police and the US Army have launched a massive manhunt for Sergeant Elder Fernandes, 23, after a missing alert was issued on Thursday (August 20) night. Fernandes was last spotted on Monday, August 17, when his staff sergeant dropped him off at his residence in Killeen, just four miles from the Fort Hood Base. The authorities have also sought the public’s help to track him. 

Fernandes, who was in his black Army physical training shorts and t-shirts with red trainers, originally hails from Brockton, Massachusetts, and worked as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade at the army installation named after Confederate General John Bell Hood. 

Fernandes’s mysterious disappearance comes in the wake of the deaths of 11 Fort Hood soldiers this year. Foul play is suspected in five of those cases. An independent investigation is currently going on following the deaths and disappearances. 

The shocking case of Vanessa Guillen:

In July, the army confirmed that the human remains found buried near the Fort Hood base belonged to Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old woman soldier who went missing in April. The remains were found near the Leon River, about 30 miles from the base. Twenty-year-old Aaron David Robinson was named as the main suspect in the case and investigators said the suspect -- also a junior soldier at the base -- took his own life after fleeing the base. 

People pay respects at a mural of Vanessa Guillen, a soldier based at nearby Fort Hood on July 6, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Getty Images)

Fort Hood officials named 20-year-old Aaron David Robinson as the main suspect in Guillen's disappearance last week. Investigators said the suspect, a junior soldier at the base, took his own life after fleeing his post. A 22-year-old woman named Cecily Aguilar was also charged in the Guillen case. Aguilar, an estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier, was identified in court documents as the girlfriend of Robinson. According to a criminal conspiracy against her, Aguilar told the investigators that Robinson admitted to her that he had bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer before moving her body. Aguilar was accused of helping to dismember and bury the body. 

The incident caught national attention and hundreds protested at the gate of the base in June demanding justice for Guillen. Earlier this month, a 48-year-old man in San Antonio was arrested for threatening a mass shooting in Fort Hood in a Facebook post in retaliation to Guillen’s death. Her death became a catalyst for the Army in highlighting cases of sexual harassment and assaults in the military.

In July end, President Donald Trump met with Guillen's family at the White House and backed an investigation into her death and assured her kin that her death won't be "swept under the rug". 

Other instances of disappearance/death at Fort Hood:

In January 2017, Fox News cited reports to say the Army and local police were probing deaths of 11 Fort Hood soldiers who died on and off the base in the months before under mysterious circumstances, as per reports. The deaths were caused by varying reasons -- gunshots, car accidents and illnesses and all the deaths were under probe. 
In August last year, Pvt. Gregory Wedel-Morales disappeared. The 24-year-old was last seen driving his personal vehicle outside of the base before he was due to be released. 
In June this year, Wedel-Morales’s remains were found by search teams. They were found in a field in Killeen, about five miles from Fort Hood.

Military sexual trauma survivors Melissa Bryant (L) and Lucy Del Guadio testify before the House Armed Services Committee about sexual harassment and retaliation in the armed forces in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill July 29, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

After the disappearance of Guillen in April, the body of Army Pfc. Brandon S. Rosecrans, 27, was found in May with gunshot wounds and his vehicle was found some distance away in flames.

In July, Pvt. Mejhor Morta of Pensacola, Florida, was found unresponsive while in August, a number of soldiers were either reported to be missing or dead, including  Sgt. Bradley Moore, Spc. Cole Jakob Aton and Fernandes. 

Army response to the Fort Hood death/disappearance mystery:

Army leaders have delayed the planned transfer of Maj. Geb. Scott Efflandt, the base’s commander, to a more prestigious assignment at Fort Bliss, also in Texas, while independent investigators were seeing if leadership failure was one of the reasons for the deaths and disappearances, Daily Mail reported. 

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Fort Hood has seen of the highest numbers of murder, sexual assault and harassment in the forces. In June, he announced that an independent probe will happen at the base. Five civilian experts have also been roped in for the probe to analyze the command culture to understand why there has been such a high number of cases of deaths and disappearances. The review will be released in October, the report added. 

Child prostitution:

To add to the base’s ill-reputation, two of its soldiers were found among nine arrested in early August for involvement in a massive child prostitution ring. Twenty-five-year-old Anthony Xavier Antwon and 30-year-old Timmy Jones Jr were allegedly held for trying to pay for minors for sex over the social media. 

The duo was accused of contacting the cops posing as teenage girls on social media and making arrangements to meet them for sex. The police alleged that the men were willing to pay the ‘girls’ in cash, drugs or alcohol and arrested them as they arrived at the arranged locations to meet them. 

In 2015, former Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen conceded to 15 of 21 misconduct charges, including his collusion with another soldier to bring two low-ranking women into his prostitution ring. He was dishonorably discharged from the Army.

A US Army soldier reacts as former President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial for victims of April 2014 shooting at Fort Hood military base on April 9, 2014 (Getty Images)

Mass shootings at Fort Hood base:

There have also been a couple of horrendous mass massacres at the base, involving a veteran soldier and a military psychiatrist. In November 2009, Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist, opened shooting at the base in the name of Islam which led to the death of 13 and injuries to 32. He was handed a death sentence in August 2013. 

In April 2014, Iraq war veteran Spc. Ivan Lopez started firing at the base to kill three and injuring 16 before shooting himself dead.

Fort Hood, which is active since 1942, is the headquarters of III Corps and First Army Division West and also houses among others, the 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Cavalry Regiment.