FORT HOOD, Texas — An open investigation of "abuse sexual contact" involving missing Fort Hood soldier Sgt. Elder Fernandes was confirmed by the military post Friday evening.
"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," Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, Fort Hood public affairs officer, said in a statement. "The unit also facilitated his transfer from a unit who has recently deployed to a different unit within the brigade to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals."
Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, commander of Fort Hood, said he does not suspect foul play in the disappearance of the 23-year-old.
Fernandes was reported missing to police Aug. 19, according to Killeen police. KPD said he was last seen by his staff sergeant Monday afternoon when he dropped him off at his residence in the 2700 block of Woodlands Drive in Killeen.
Fort Hood reiterated that it did not suspect foul play in a media statement Aug. 22. In the statement, Commander of the 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion Justin Redfern said they are concerned for his well-being and seek to get him back "with the people that care about him."
"We are concerned for his well-being and want him to continue the care he was receiving before he went missing. Our unit and the Army have the resources to help him," Redfern said.
Fort Hood also said there is no connection between the soldier's disappearance and any other ongoing cases on post at this time.
"Sgt. Fernandes’ Leadership initiated a dialogue with his family before his current absence and will remain in contact with them in our efforts to find him," the statement read.
Fort Hood reported Aug. 21 that Fernandes "may have left Fort Hood on his own accord" following information gathered from other soldiers. He did not report to work the following day as scheduled, Fort Hood said in a release. His only known vehicle was found on post in his unit's parking lot.
“We are very concerned about the welfare of this soldier and first and foremost we want to ensure he is okay,” Christopher Grey, spokesman for CID, said in the release. “If someone out there has any information, regardless of how trivial you may think it is, we are asking you to contact us immediately.”
Natalie Khawam, the attorney who represents the family of slain Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen, said she is now representing the Fernandes family.
"I intend to fight with the same vigor and grace for Sgt. Elder Fernandes as I have in all my many high-profile cases that I successfully represented in my professional career," Khawam said in a statement.
Fernandes is described as an African American, about 5'5" tall and weighs approximately 133 pounds. He was last seen wearing black army PT shorts, a T-shirt and red athletic shoes.
Detectives with the Criminal Investigation Division are asking anyone who has seen Fernandez or know about his whereabouts to contact the Killeen Police Department at 254-200-7905.
Fort Hood put out a BOLO alert via social media for the soldier. The post said those with information on Fernandez can contact Fort Hood military police at 254-288-1170 or U.S. Army CID at 254-287-2722. Tips can also be submitted anonymously online.