The death and disappearance count of Fort Hood soldiers has reached an alarming 150 over the last five years, according to three members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation investigating the death of a Brockton soldier who was stationed at the Texas Army base.
Reps. Stephen Lynch, Ayanna Pressley and Katherine Clark said there have been 150 suicides, homicides and disappearances over that period, including Sgt. Elder Fernandes and nearly 30 others who have died this year alone.
“Someone has to find the courage to investigate the Army because 150 is ridiculous,” his aunt, Isabel Fernandes, said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, it’s too late for Elder, but we need to save the soldiers who are left.”
The three Congressional members went to Fort Hood last weekend seeking answers about Fernandes, who vanished and was later found hanging from a tree last month about 30 miles from the base.
“Most significantly, I think what we saw is … the toxic culture of fear, intimidation, harassment and indifference, not only on this post but within our military hierarchy,” Clark said.
Of the almost 30 deaths so far this year, seven were classified as suicides, Pressley said.
But Fernandes’ aunt last month said his family believes he was abducted and killed to keep him from testifying against a superior he had accused of sexually assaulting him.
After he reported the alleged assault, her nephew, 23, was transferred to a new unit, where he was bullied and hazed, she said.
His mother last heard from him on Aug. 16, the night before he was to be discharged from the psychiatric ward at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, Fernandes’ aunt said. He told her he would call her the next day, but she never heard from him again.
Isabel Fernandes said the Army has not told his family the reason for his stay in the psychiatric ward or whether it was voluntary.
Army officials told the family that a different superior signed his hospital release and dropped him off outside of a house belonging to a former roommate of Fernandes, his aunt said.
“Does the Army really expect us to believe that he walked 30 miles to kill himself when he could have done it in his own apartment?” she said last month.
Lynch said the day he arrived at Fort Hood, the Army claimed there was no veracity to Fernandes’ complaint, based on a polygraph test that was given to his alleged perpetrator, even though polygraphs are inadmissible in civilian courts because they have been determined to be unreliable. So the delegation has requested documents pertaining to the case.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Vanessa Guillen bill, named for a Fort Hood soldier who was bludgeoned to death and dismembered, allegedly by another soldier, who fatally shot himself in July as police attempted to arrest him.
The bill would allow active-duty members to file harassment and assault claims to a third-party agency instead of through their chain of command.
Fort Hood, which is now under the command of a different general, did not respond to requests for comment.