Sgt. Elder Fernandes’ casket, which was draped with an American flag, was lowered from the airplane to an awaiting six-person honor guard.
Family members stood nearby on the airport’s apron — some wailing, others hugging — as Fernandes’ body was carried to the back of a hearse.
Fernandes was flown back to Massachusetts on Tuesday evening from Texas, landing at Boston Logan International Airport. He returned home a week after he was found dead in Temple, Texas, hanged from a tree about 28 miles from Fort Hood, the U.S. Army base he was stationed at and where he went missing from on Aug. 17.
Fernandes’ return came on the same day a Dallas County medical examiner released a preliminary autopsy report stating that Fernandes hanged himself.
After landing in Boston, Fernandes was returned to his hometown of Brockton, receiving a police escort to the Russell & Pica Funeral Home on Belmont Street.
Fernandes is expected to be laid to rest in Brockton in the near future, with final arrangements still being formalized.
“Sgt. Fernandes will be buried in the city of Brockton with military honors,” Councilor-at-large Moises Rodrigues said at a vigil held outside City Hall last week. “And if the military will not honor him, the city of Brockton will honor him and we will bury him as the honored son that he is to us.”
Fernandes’ family disputes Temple police’s finding that there was no foul play involved in his death.
Natalie Khawam, the family’s attorney, said Fernandes was transferred to another unit after reporting in May that he was sexually assaulted by a male superior, and word spread within the new unit, leading to harassment, belittling, bullying and hazing.
“He was humiliated, he was embarrassed, he couldn’t even tell his mom, he didn’t want to tell anyone,” Khawam said last week at a news conference in Tampa, Florida. “He was afraid. He was ashamed by this.”
Fernandes, when he was located near railroad tracks in Temple, was found with his military ID and backpack, which contained his cellphone, wallet, money, car keys and personal hygiene items.
“They don’t know what happened — whether it was suicide or whether murder. But I’m gonna tell you, what they did to him, the blood on their hands, it’s a form of murder,” Khawam said.
Fernandes reported in May that he was inappropriately touched by a male superior.
U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent Damon Phelps said last week that the investigation into Fernandes’ report of sexual assault was completed “fairly recently” and that Fernandes was made aware that investigators found his report “unsubstantiated.”
The Fernandes family is calling for an independent, congressional investigation into what happened to Fernandes, as well as several other soldiers who have died or gone missing from Fort Hood. Khawam said Fernandes is the 13th Fort Hood soldier to vanish or be killed this year.
Fort Hood announced Monday that an independent group of five civilians, who have a combined 75 years of experience in active-duty military or law enforcement, will spend the next two weeks on a “fact-finding mission” to determine possible root causes behind recent violence and sexual misconduct at Fort Hood.
The investigative team will review a wide range of Fort Hood personnel, historic data and statistics, according to a written statement from U.S. Army officials. The group also will evaluate policies, regulations and procedures regarding sexual assault prevention, sexual harassment and equal opportunity.
The team also will scrutinize Fort Hood leaders’ training, education, abilities and effectiveness, as well as their response when soldiers disappear from post.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, the military branch’s top civilian leader, requested the investigation in July after as many as five soldiers died of suspected foul play on or near Fort Hood in recent months.
McCarthy revealed during a briefing in early August that Fort Hood has the highest rate of violent crime in the U.S. Army.
On Thursday, U.S. Army officials announced Fort Hood’s commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, was removed from his position following the string of incidents.
Efflandt was also denied his upcoming transfer to Fort Bliss. He’s now instructed to stay at Fort Hood to serve as the deputy commanding general for support.
(c) 2020 The Enterprise
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.