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Soldier's family doubts what Army says about his death; Fort Hood's commander removed from position

Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes' family said they don't buy the Army's story about what happened to their loved one.

HOUSTON — The commander at Fort Hood has been removed from his position in the wake of a series of tragic incidents, including the murder of Specialist Vanessa Guillen, of Houston. Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt will be replaced by Maj. Gen John B. Richardson IV. The change takes effect Sept. 2.

Now, the family of another soldier said they don't buy the Army's story about what happened to their loved one.

“They tell us he was a go-getter, he’s aggressive, he’s so highly decorated," said Marianna Shorter, Elder Fernandes' cousin.

Elder Fernandes, 23, was born in Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa. He's from a military family.

“He recently re-enlisted until 2024 because he loves the Army," said Shorter, who spent 24 years in the Army, including time at Fort Hood.

She said the family is in disbelief. They were told Fernandes died by suicide while he was off-post.

Was it the sexual harassment? Was it the bullying. Was it the hazing?” Shorter said.

In May, Fernandes reported someone grabbed his rear end. The Army moved him to a different unit but said they also noticed behavioral changes. Fernandes was admitted to the hospital in early August and was last seen on the 17th, the day he was released. A week later, he was found dead.

“We were truly hoping for a different result, in reuniting Sgt. Fernandes with his family," said Army officials at a press conference.

However, two days later, the Army announced the case was closed. It said the person accused of the sexual assault passed a polygraph and there were no other witnesses.

“They told us it was an ongoing investigation and there would be a timely investigation," Shorter said.

Fernandes is now the 10th soldier stationed at Fort Hood found dead since March, including Guillen.

“In this case and so many other cases, we are feeling like these soldiers are being let down," Shorter said.

On Tuesday, Fernandes’ body was flown home to Brockton, Massachusetts. The family said they want an independent autopsy.

In the meantime at Fort Hood, a civilian committee has arrived to investigate the climate and culture surrounding the sexual harassment claims these cases have brought to light.

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