FORT HOOD, Texas — Fort Hood appears to be on the cusp of yet another tragedy as authorities search for the latest Army soldier to go missing from the base.
The Texas military installation, on which Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured 32 others in a 2009 mass shooting, has seen more than its share of bloodshed. In 2014, five years after Hasan’s killing rampage, Iraq War veteran and Army veteran SPC Ivan Lopez opened fire on the base, killing three soldiers and injuring another 16 before killing himself.
Hasan was convicted in 2013 of 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder and sentenced to death.
More recently, a spate of missing and slain soldiers has plagued the base, where multiple investigations into the “command climate and culture” have been launched following allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been 12 Fort Hood soldiers who have vanished, died, or, in one case, turned up dead after going missing last year. Two more who had separated from the Army at the base within the previous six months were also slain, according to Stars and Stripes.
In one of those two cases, the person charged with murder was an active-duty soldier based at Fort Hood.
“The numbers are high here. They are the highest in most cases for sexual assault, harassment, murders, for our entire formation in the U.S. Army,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said during a visit to Fort Hood earlier this month, the military publication reported.
Here is what we know about each of the soldiers.
Sgt. Elder Fernandes
Editor’s note: A body believed to that of Elder Fernandes was found hanging from a tree Aug. 25 near railroad tracks in Temple, Texas. The sergeant’s identification was found with the body. No foul play was suspected.
Original: Fernandes, 23, was last seen by fellow soldiers on Aug. 17 at a civilian home in Killeen, Texas. Army officials confirmed on Saturday that the sergeant had been the alleged victim of “abusive sexual contact,” NBC News reported.
“He did not report to work the following day as scheduled,” Fort Hood officials said in a news release. “Additionally, his only known vehicle was located on base at his unit’s parking lot.”
Fernandes, a native of the Republic of Cabo Verde, is a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, authorities said.
Foul play is not suspected in his disappearance.
“Information gathered from fellow soldiers indicates Sgt. Fernandes left on his own accord,” Army officials said. “We resolve every case based on its unique circumstances. At this time, there is no connection between the disappearance of Sgt. Fernandes and any other ongoing cases at Fort Hood.”
Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a spokesman for the 1st Cavalry Division, told NBC News on Saturday that Fernandes had reported improper sexual contact to his superiors.
“We can confirm there is an open investigation of abusive sexual contact involving Sgt. Fernandes,” Brautigam said in a statement. “The unit sexual assault response coordinator has been working closely with Sgt. Fernandes, ensuring he was aware of all his reporting, care, and victim advocacy options.”
Fernandes had also been transferred “to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.”
Fernandes’ mother, Ailiana Fernandes, told NBC News that her son had been hospitalized for several days prior to his disappearance. She said the reason for his hospital stay was unclear.
Ailiana Fernandes and other family members have traveled to Texas from Massachusetts to seek answers about Elder Fernandes’ disappearance. KCEN-TV in Temple reported that family members have been meeting with Army officials daily as the search for Fernandes continues.
Fort Hood officials said Sunday in a statement that finding Fernandes safe remains the 1st Cavalry Division’s top priority.
Finding Sgt. Elder Fernandes safe a remains the top priority of the 1st Cavalry Division..We ask him to reach out to his leadership, his family, the local police or a nearby hospital or clinic so we can ensure he receives the care he needs. #findelderfernandes pic.twitter.com/nSU46T7IkC— 1st Cavalry Division (@1stCavalryDiv) August 23, 2020
“Within hours of Sgt. Fernandes’ disappearance, soldiers from his unit on Fort Hood initiated a thorough search for him, both on and off post, which will continue until he is located,” the statement said. “With the commanding general’s oversight, the unit reached out to every unit across Fort Hood, providing a photograph, and asking them to report any sightings or information.
“All division motor pools, parking lots, barracks and HQs buildings have been thoroughly searched. Additionally, soldiers have visited local hotels and hospitals throughout central Texas and continue to expand their search efforts.”
Fernandes is described as an African-American man standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing 133 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.
He was last seen wearing a black Army physical training T-shirt and shorts with black, orange and yellow athletic shoes.
Anyone with information on Fernandes’ whereabouts is asked to contact the Killeen Police Department at 254-526-TIPS (8477), Bell County Crime Stoppers at bellcountycrimestoppers.com, the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Command (CID) office at 254-287-2722, the Fort Hood MP desk at 254-287-4001 or their local police department.
Tips can also be submitted anonymously on the Crime Stoppers website or at cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html.
“People wishing to remain anonymous will be honored to the degree allowable under the law and the information will be held in the strictest confidence allowable,” Army officials said.
SPC Cole Jakob Aton
Aton, 22, of Science Hill, Kentucky, was killed Aug. 12 as he helped at the scene of a minor crash on U.S. Route 190 and Interstate 14 in Killeen. CBS Dallas-Fort Worth reported that Aton was standing in the roadway, directing traffic around the involved vehicles, when he was struck by a driver who did not see him in time to avoid him.
No charges have been filed against the driver, the news station said.
Aton entered the Army in March 2018 as an Army Patriot Launching Station Enhanced Operator-Maintainer and had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 44th Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade since August 2018, Fort Hood officials said in a news release.
Aton’s awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“The command wishes to express its condolences to the families and friends of Specialist Jakob Aton, and all who have been affected by this tragic accident. Specialist Aton was a professional, committed to the mission. His selfless service and care for others are in keeping with the highest traditions of the ‘Lightning Brigade’ and our Army,” said Col. Ethan Hall, commander of the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. “The entire team is heartbroken. Our priority right now is to take care of his family, ensuring they have all the resources they need during this critical time.”
SPC Francisco Gilberto Hernandezvargas
Hernandezvargas, 24, drowned Aug. 2 in a boating accident at Stillhouse Hollow Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir located about 15 miles from Fort Hood.
According to The Associated Press, Hernandezvargas went under as he was being pulled on an inner tube behind a motorboat on the lake.
Fort Hood officials said Hernandezvargas, a native of Woodside, New York, had been in the Army since May 2017. An automatic rifleman, he had been assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since December 2017.
Hernandezvargas’ awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon and the Army Service Ribbon.
“The Black Knight family is heartbroken by the loss of Specialist Francisco Hernandezvargas. Our hearts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time,” Lt. Col. Neil Armstrong, commander of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, said in a news release. “Specialist Hernandezvargas served his country honorably, both stateside while at Fort Hood and abroad in Korea and Romania, and this tragic loss is felt by every member within our formation.”
Hernandezvargas was the second soldier who died on the lake in less than a month.
PVT Mejhor Morta
Morta, 26, of Pensacola, Florida, was found dead July 17 on Stillhouse Hollow Lake. Authorities said a preliminary autopsy indicated his death, like that of Hernandezvargas, appeared to be from drowning.
His body was found at the base of the dam, according to a news release from the Bell County Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the case.
“I always envision myself that something great will happen to me. As long as I keep learning from my mistakes and...Posted by Mejhor Morta on Monday, April 6, 2020
Morta had been an Army private since last September, when he entered as a Bradley Fighting Vehicle mechanic. According to Fort Hood officials, he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Morta’s awards and decorations include the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“The Black Knight family is truly heartbroken by the tragic loss of PVT Mejhor Morta,” Armstrong said in a news release. “I would like to send my heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and loved ones. My thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time.
“PVT Morta was a great trooper and this loss is felt by every member within our formation.”
KCEN-TV reported that Morta’s colleagues remembered him Wednesday at a memorial service held on Fort Hood. Morta was buried in Pensacola last week.
“Mejhor brought honor, dignity and respect to our nation,” Armstrong said at the memorial, according to the news station. “He was a patriot who volunteered to serve our great country and we will always be grateful for his steadfast dedication to family, friends and fellow Soldiers. He was truly remarkable, and this loss hurts all of us.”
SPC Vanessa Guillen
Guillen, whose disappearance and death made national headlines and prompted multiple investigations of sexual harassment on Fort Hood, vanished April 22 from the base, where she was a small arms and artillery repairer for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
Authorities initially said Guillen, 20, of Houston, had last been seen in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters.
“Her car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she was working earlier in the day,” a CID news release said. “She was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and purple fitness-type pants.”
Guillen’s family and their attorney alleged that the missing soldier had told them that she had suffered sexual harassment at Fort Hood.
Fort Hood officials said at a news conference that investigators had been unable to corroborate those claims. A probe into the implementation of the base’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, is ongoing.
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, III Corps deputy commanding general, said the investigation includes an assessment of “whether the command climate is supportive of soldiers reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault” and the identification of any systemic issues with the SHARP program.
Guillen’s remains were found June 30, buried in multiple shallow graves about 30 miles from the base. Searchers found the dismembered soldier encased in concrete and buried in multiple spots in Belton, along the Leon River.
Hours after the grisly discovery, as U.S. Marshals and Killeen police officers closed in on a suspect, the man, an active duty junior soldier, turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger. SPC Aaron David Robinson, 20, was pronounced dead at the scene on a street in Killeen.
Robinson’s civilian girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, is charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. Aguilar is accused of helping Robinson cut Guillen’s body into pieces with a machete and an ax, burn her remains and bury them.
Unlike Fernandes, Guillen had not reported her allegations to base officials. Her disappearance nonetheless prompted multiple investigations into sexual harassment on the base, as well as calls for a congressional probe into the way her disappearance and death were handled.
Authorities have said Robinson bludgeoned Guillen to death in an arms room on the base and carried her body away in a heavy-duty plastic case. Burned pieces of the case were found near the burial site along the Leon River.
PV2 Gregory Wedel Morales
Elder Fernandes was reported missing nearly one year to the day after the Aug. 20, 2019, disappearance of Morales. The 23-year-old Sapulpa, Oklahoma, native, who was days away from being discharged from the Army, vanished after a night out with friends in Killeen.
Morales’ skeletal remains were found June 19, days before Guillen’s body was found, in a field about four miles from the base. His death is being investigated as a homicide and his mother, Kim Wedel, has said investigators believe he was shot in the face.
Wedel has been critical of Army officials, who declared Morales a deserter after he vanished. It was not until Guillen’s disappearance, and a subsequent reward for information on her whereabouts, that Fort Hood offered an identical reward in Morales’ disappearance.
The tip that led authorities to his remains came in days later.
“The military failed him by not looking,” Wedel told The Washington Post. “They just assumed the worst and let it go.”
Wedel last spoke to her son Aug. 19, 2019, when he called her asking for gas money, she told the Post. According to Army officials, that was also the last day he was seen alive, driving his black 2018 Kia Rio off-base in Killeen.
He had gone to a club and met up with friends that night, his mother said.
Morales’ Kia was later found abandoned and a month after his disappearance, he was classified as AWOL, or absent without official leave. His name was later added to the official list of Army deserters.
Despite nearly daily prodding from his family, the Army did little to look for Morales, his loved ones said. Wedel told Army Times that her family was told he was an adult and there was no proof anything bad had happened to him.
“The proof is he disappeared. He had no money and he’s not answering the phone. There’s something wrong,” Wedel told the military publication. “I was kind of ignored.”
When Morales’ remains were found, Wedel said was told her son decomposed in the field, with dust and debris covering his remains as they sank over time into the ground over time. Morales’ clothing was shredded and scattered, she said.
Because his death occurred off-base, the Killeen Police Department is investigating his killing.
Morales entered the Army in June 2015 as a motor transport operator and had been assigned to the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division since November 2016. His awards and decorations include two Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Driver and Mechanics Badge and Army Service Ribbon.
PFC Brandon Scott Rosecrans
Rosecrans, 27, of Kimberling City, Missouri, was found slain May 18 on the side of a road in Harker Heights, Texas. According to Fox 7 in Austin, Rosecrans had been shot four times.
Harker Heights police officials said officers were called around 10:16 a.m. to the 2100 block of Fuller Lane, where Rosecrans was found dead. Minutes later, police and firefighters were called to a different location about four miles away, where they found Rosecrans’ Jeep burning, the news station reported.
Two people were arrested earlier this month and charged in Rosecrans’ murder.
Brandon Michael Olivares, 28, of Killeen, is charged with murder and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, Bell County Jail records show. He is being held without bond on the murder charge.
Olivares’ girlfriend, Estrellita Hidalgo Falcon, 37, also of Killeen, is charged with hindering prosecution and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
“These two people had befriended my son, and the week before (the homicide) had been pretty much leeching off my son,” Rosecrans’ father, Thomas Berg Sr., told Fox 7.
Police officials said the investigation determined that Rosecrans and Olivares were traveling together in the soldier’s Jeep when Rosecrans was killed. His body was removed from the Jeep and left on the side of the road.
Cellphone data, video and eyewitness statements put the two men together in the area of the slaying. The motive behind the shooting remains unclear, the news station reported.
Authorities said Olivares’ story kept changing as he told detectives he’d left Rosecrans alive near his Jeep, then told them another man had shot the soldier on a trip back from San Antonio.
Olivares claimed the man had used his gun, a 9mm Ruger he said he’d sold the unnamed person. According to Fox 7, authorities found messages between Olivares and another person regarding trading the weapon. The person involved in the proposed trade was not the man Olivares blamed for Rosecrans’ death.
Olivares then told detectives he killed Rosecrans because the soldier tried to rape Falcon, the news station reported. Falcon told police those allegations were not true.
In her statement to detectives, Falcon said Olivares had talked about selling the gun and about a possible robbery of Rosecrans because Olivares “wanted more than Rosecrans was wanting to give.”
Olivares waited until Rosecrans was asleep to kill him, Falcon told authorities. According to Fox 7, police and firefighters found that the passenger seat in the soldier’s Jeep was reclined all the way.
An apparent bullet hole was found in the back passenger door, the news station reported.
“Unfortunately, we will probably never have the real answer or the real truth. But, we know our son was only trying to be friends with someone for this to happen to him, and that breaks our heart,” Berg said.
Berg told the station Olivares and Falcon used his son’s cellphone after he was killed.
“They used my son’s phone after they killed him to ask his friends for money for gas,” Berg said.
One of Rosecrans’ friends responded, sending $10 via Cash App.
“They used that to buy the gas to burn his car,” Berg said.
Rosecrans entered the Army in May 2018 as a quartermaster and chemical equipment repairer, according to Fort Hood officials. He had been assigned to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since November 2018.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“Command Sgt. Maj. Ryan McLane and I would like to express our deepest regrets to the family and loved ones of PFC Brandon Rosecrans,” Col. Kevin Capra, commander of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, said in a May 20 statement. “The thoughts and prayers of the soldiers of 215th Brigade Support Battalion and the Greywolf Brigade are with them during this difficult time.”
Michael Steven Wardrobe
Wardrobe, 22, was shot and killed March 23 at a residence in Killeen. SPC Jovino Jamel Roy, also 22, has been charged with murder in the case.
According to Killeen police officials, the men were in a fight that became physical. The Killeen Daily Herald reported that Roy had allegedly used a gun to threaten Wardrobe, who separated from the Army in January.
Wardrobe was reportedly romantically involved with Roy’s wife, the Herald reported. Along with threatening Wardrobe, Roy had busted out the windows of Wardrobe’s car, the newspaper reported. When they began fighting, Roy opened fire.
“During the altercation, the suspect fired several shots at the victim and fled the area,” a news release from the police department said. “Officers in the area located the suspect at a nearby convenience store. He was taken into custody and transported to the Killeen City Jail.”
Wardrobe, who was found lying in the front yard of a home, had been shot repeatedly. A total of 10 shell casings were found at the scene, the Herald reported.
Roy was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month.
Wardrobe’s killing was the third to involve soldiers within a month in Killeen, which is located just outside the gates of Fort Hood.
SPC Freddy Beningo Delacruz Jr.
Delacruz, 23, of Vidalia, Georgia, was one of three people killed in a triple homicide March 14 in Killeen. Police have identified the other two victims as Asia Cline, 22, and Shaquan Markell Allred, 23.
Cline, who was Delacruz’s girlfriend, was pregnant when she was killed.
Killeen police officials said officers were called around 1 a.m. March 14 to the Summerlyn Apartments, in reference to gunshots.
“Officers checked the area and were unable to locate the source (of the gunshots),” a news release from the department said. “At approximately 1:40 a.m., officers received another call in reference to a water leak coming from one apartment leading to another.”
While investigating the source of the water, the officers found an unlocked apartment and attempted to contact the tenant. When they entered the unit, they found Delacruz, Cline and Allred dead.
Allred was an Army veteran, according to Stars and Stripes. Like Wardrobe, Allred had left the service in January.
Fort Hood officials said Delacruz entered the Army in November 2017 as a cavalry scout and had been assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since April 2018. His awards and decorations include the Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“The Stallion family is truly devastated by the tragic loss of SPC Freddy Delacruz. He was an outstanding trooper,” Lt. Col. Steven E. Jackowski, commander, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said in a statement. “Each of us in the battalion are grateful for having known him, and we collectively grieve his loss.”
SPC Christopher Wayne Sawyer
Sawyer, 29, of Longview, Washington, was found dead March 5 at his home on the base. Army CID officials said foul play was not suspected in Sawyer’s death but that an investigation was being conducted.
Sawyer entered the Army in October 2017 as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and had been assigned to the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since May 2018. His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“We send our deepest condolences to the family of Specialist Christopher Sawyer and the loved ones most closely affected by this tragedy. We are deeply saddened by the loss of any member of our IRONHORSE team and we will mourn this loss as an organization,” said Col. Michael Schoenfeldt, commander of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
SPC Shelby Tyler Jones
Jones, 20, of Jena, Louisiana, was found suffering from a gunshot wound shortly after 3 a.m. March 1 at a convenience store in Killeen. Police officers performed life-saving measures but Jones died at the scene.
Killeen police officials said that Jones had been shot at Club Dreams, a strip club about a half-mile from the store. The case remains unresolved, though Stars and Stripes reported that a redacted copy of investigative reports shows a total of 15 people either witnessed Jones’ killing or were believed to be involved.
A Bell County grand jury declined to indict the suspected gunman in June, the publication reported.
Ofelia Miramontez, a spokesperson for the Killeen Police Department, said the case has been “exceptionally cleared,” which she said means elements beyond the control of investigators have prevented the arrest and indictment of a suspect. Prosecutors declined to tell Stars and Stripes why the grand jury failed to indict.
Jones entered the Army in May 2017 as a cavalry scout and had been assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment since August 2018, according to Fort Hood officials. He had been deployed in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve from May 2018 to January 2019.
His awards and decorations included the Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
“Specialist Shelby Jones was a highly valued member of the Brave Rifles team, and his loss is profoundly felt by all of his friends and fellow troopers in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment,” regiment commander Col. Ralph Overland said. “He was a dedicated professional who truly loved his family and the Army.”
PVT Eric Christopher Hogan and PFC Anthony Nevelle Peak Jr.
Hogan, 19, and Peak, 21, died Feb. 1 from injuries they suffered in a private car crash on Highway 195 in Williamson County.
Hogan, of Campton, New Hampshire, entered the Army in June 2019 as a cavalry scout. He was assigned to 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since November 2019.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon.
“The Thunder Battalion is deeply saddened by the sudden and tragic loss of PVT Eric Hogan,” said Lt. Col. Ronald Sprang, Commander, 2-12 Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “We send our most heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Private Hogan. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them in this trying time. He was an important member of the battalion scout platoon and the battalion and his loss is deeply felt.”
Peak, of Mount Dora, Florida, entered the Army in June 2017 as an ammunition specialist. He was assigned to the 9th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division since May 2019.
His awards and decorations include two Army Accommodation Medals, National Defense Service Medal and Army Service Ribbon.
“PFC Anthony Peak was a valuable member of this team and his loss is felt by his friends and the soldiers of the Saber Squadron and Greywolf Brigade. Command Sgt. Maj. Ryan McLane and I would like to express our deepest condolences to Anthony’s family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult time,” said Col. Kevin Capra, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
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