Army Sgt. Elder Fernandes was remembered as someone motivated to help others through his military service and who looked forward to the future with a sense of possibility.
This extended to his goal after the military to study psychology and continue to help people.
“Elder lived his young life striving for greatness and striving to be the solution and never the problem,” said Deacon Christopher Connelly during Fernandes’ Saturday funeral service. “Indeed, a man of beatitude and a man of hope.”
Fernandes, 23, immigrated to Brockton from Cape Verde as a child. He graduated from Brockton High School in 2015 and enlisted in the Army.
He leaves behind his parents, Ailina Neves Fernandes and Eugenio Fernandes, two siblings and wife Nadia Channell, who family members say Fernandes married in the spring.
About 100 mourners were welcomed inside Edith Stein Church with safety measures like temperature checks and mask wearing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
We can deliver news just like this directly to your inbox. You can sign up for This Just In (a daily 7:30 p.m. newsletter with items we’ve posted that day), News Alerts (so you don’t miss anything important) and more. It’s customized to your preferences — and it’ll only take a few seconds.Half of the church service was conducted in Portuguese, the official language of Cape Verde.
Some family members and attendees wore white shirts with a picture of Fernandes and the words “We love you” across the front. Several had an additional message on the back: “Justice.”
At the service, At-Large City Councilor Moises Rodrigues spoke on behalf of the family. He thanked everyone who offered care and support while Fernandes was missing, since his death and the journey to bring him back to Brockton.
Support for the family will continue as it pushes for an independent Congressional investigation into Fernandes’ death.
“There are so many questions unanswered,” Rodrigues said. “We want to continue to seek those answers because he deserved a lot more out of life.”
Fernandes was stationed at Fort Hood and went missing Aug. 17 after reporting sexual assault by a superior. A week later he was found dead in Temple, Texas about 30 miles from the Army base. A preliminary report from the Dallas County medical examiner states that Fernandes hung himself.
His family disputes Temple police’s findings that foul play was not a factor in Fernandes’ death.
Natalie Khawam, the family’s attorney, said previously that the sergeant was transferred to another unit after reporting in May that he was sexually assaulted by a male superior. Word spread within the new unit, which led to harassment, belittling, bullying and hazing, Khawam said.
Other soldiers have died or gone missing from Fort Hood. Khawam said Fernandes is the 13th to vanish or be killed this year.
In response to his death, Brockton community members held a vigil to mourn Fernandes and call for answers.
Mayor Robert Sullivan, who offered condolences to the family at the service, said he will work with Congressman Stephen Lynch and other officials to push for the investigation.
The family deserves to know what happened so that something similar doesn’t happen to another family, he said.
Local law enforcement, firefighters and Army members and veterans saluted Fernandes as his casket was brought in and out of the church and to the cemetery. Area Patriot Guard Riders arrived on motorcycles and held flags during the services.
Fernandes was buried at Melrose Cemetery with military honors, including a gun salute and taps. Army members folded the flag draped across his casket while “America the Beautiful” played on the horn.
The flag from his casket was presented to Fernandes’ mother, who hugged it close to her. Two other folded flags were given to his father and spouse.
Family members held and comforted each other as they stood by his grave and covered his casket with red roses.
State Rep. Liz Miranda, a Dorchester Democrat who is Cape Verdean, presented the Fernandes family with a proclamation from the House of Representatives commemorating the Army sergeant.
He was buried in a veterans area of the cemetery. Near his plot are those who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II.
Following the funeral service, mourners gathered at the Fernandes’ Brockton home.
“There is sadness in parting but we take comfort in the hope we will see Elder again,” said Connelly, the deacon.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Sgt. Fernandes Scholarship Fund: Harborone#1101476636 C/O Cape Verdean Association of Brockton, 525 North Montello St., Brockton, MA 02301.
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