FORT HOOD, Texas — Missing Fort Hood Sgt. Elder Fernandes was last seen by members of his unit on August 17 at a home in Killeen. That's the information Fort Hood officials have at this time, at least.
Officials met with the Fernandes family Sunday on Fort Hood to share information about the case. After that meeting, the Fernandez family said they simply cannot believe Sgt. Fernandes went missing on purpose and they take issue with that being the official line.
"When you assume he left on his own accord and when you write things like, 'He needs to come back to get the care that he was under,' That leaves the public to believe that we are looking for a mentally ill service member," Fernandes' Cousin Mariana Shorter said. "That's the wrong assumption. With the credibility and character that he has, he would not put his mother through this."
Family members said Monday that Fernandes was admitted to Carl R. Darnell Memorial Hospital on August 11. His aunt, Isabel Fernandes, said the family called him every day but he told them very little about why he was there. The family said Fort Hood officials informed them later that Fernandes had been suicidal, but they don't know exactly when.
They said Fernandes was released on August 17 and was, allegedly, taken back to a home where he had formerly lived in Killeen. The family said there are several red flags with that story.
First, his mother, Ailina Fernandes, said she had spoken to him the day before and he had promised to call. Other family members vouched that they had an extremely close relationship.
"The last time we talked on Sunday evening he told me, 'Mom, as soon as I get out of the hospital and get my cell phone I will call you. I'll make a video call so you can see me,'" Ailina Fernandes said. "These were his last words to me. I promise you I will call you Monday and it never happened. It's not OK!"
The family said Fernandez was cleared to return to work. When they spoke to officials about who exactly took Fernandez home, however, they said officials could not give then access to the "Members of his unit," as referred to in the Fort Hood press release, that took him home.
"We know it's a staff sergeant. We have requested permission to speak with him to find out 'what kind of conversation did yall have? What state of mind was he in?' We have not had the opportunity to speak with this gentleman," Shorter said.
Family members said officials told them he, "Was just getting a ride" for the Staff Sgt. so there is no record of Fernandes being signed out to a superior.
Finally, family members said Fort Hood claimed to take Fernandes to a home on Woodlands Drive in Killeen, which was his last known address. They later found out that Fernandes had moved out of that address in late July and found his car still on post.
Family members said it would make no sense for Fernandes to be dropped off in a place where he did not live and where he had no transportation. Ailina said the current residents of the home never saw Fernandes either.
"The roommates told us he was never there. They had never seen him on that Monday. He had already moved out from that apartment," Ailina said. "Nobody had seen him open the door or get inside the house. We don't know after that."
The family said Texas EquuSearch searched the area where Fernandes was supposedly dropped off and found nothing. They worry that he was never taken there in the first place.
"There is no proof of who picked him up. There is no proof of where he went. There is no proof of where he was really dropped off. There is no proof of anything," Isabel said.
That left the family fearful that Fernandes did not, in fact, leave on his own accord. They hope that assessment will be reviewed as Fort Hood continues to ask the public for help.
"If we are asking the public for assistance to help find him, and then you come back and say he left on his own accord, that's kind of conflicting. That means he's out vacationing somewhere. But if he is out vacationing somewhere, being the child she knows he is, he would have reached out," Shorter said.
6 News asked Fort Hood Monday to clarify what the procedure was for a soldier being discharged from the hospital and asked if the people picking Fernandes up were assigned by his unit or not.
1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Officer LTC Chris Brautigam responded to the the first question in an email stating, "Commanders generally have the authority to take necessary and appropriate action for the care and welfare of the Soldiers under their charge. Specific to your question, yes, Army Command Policy provides that "[d]etention on closed wards may be required when needed to ensure proper medical supervision or to protect the Soldier or others from harmful acts." However, such orders or directions are given with the advice and guidance of medical officials and legal advisors."
Brautigam did not respond to the 6 News question asking if the soldiers who picked Fernandes up at the hospital were assigned to do so.
Also on KCENTV.com: