Family members, friends, and elected officials in Massachusetts are continuing to call for an independent investigation into the death of Army Sergeant Elder Fernandes. This week, he was found hanging from a tree miles from Ft. Hood, Texas where he was stationed.
Fernandes' death is one of several suspicious deaths and disappearances of soldiers from the Fort Hood base.
A vigil was held Friday night in both Cape Verdean Creole and English at City Hall in Brockton to honor Fernandes. Well over 100 people attended carrying candles and photos of the sergeant.
Fernandes was 10 when his family emigrated from Cape Verde. He attended Brockton High School and enlisted in the Army in 2016. He earned his sergeant stripes while serving in Germany, and then returned back to the U.S. when he was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas.
Sometime in the last 10 days, Fernandes died. His aunt, Nilda Fernandes, sought comfort from those who gathered.
"Bear with us. Stay with us. Support us because we want this to be heard...everywhere," she said at the vigil. "Now, how am I going to tell my son, 'Your uncle is dead.'? How am I going to tell him that?"
Brockton City Councilor Rita Mendes was among those who attended the vigil.
"Tonight we just wanted to keep it with the prayer and vigil to comfort those who are here tonight," Mendes said.
But family, friends, and attendees also came looking for answers and to seek justice for Fernandes. In May, he filed a sexual abuse claim with the army. Earlier this month, he was hospitalized at the base – then he went missing. Days later his body was found hanging in a tree miles from Fort Hood.
"I believe it’s time we took the hood off Fort Hood,"said Brockton City Councilor Moises Rodrigues, who helped organize the vigil for Fernandes. Local Texas police officials say there were no signs of foul play, suggesting the death was likely a suicide. Rodrigues scoffs at the idea.
"I still cannot believe that someone would decide to kill himself 30 miles away from his home," said Rodrigues. "That makes absolutely no sense...when his car is still at his home base."
Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch also attended the vigil, and had just returned from Fort Hood.
"The situation at Fort Hood is very bad," he said.
Lynch went to help Fernandes’ mother get information from Army officials about how her son died. His was one of many recent deaths and disappearances among soldiers at the base.
"Just so you know, Elder Fernandes was the tenth, the tenth soldier that went missing within this year," said Lynch at the vigil. "We're losing more people at Fort Hood than we are in Afghanistan."
Massachusetts Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren are joining Congressman Lynch in calling for an independent federal investigation of Elder Fernandes’ death.
"We believe that the situation is so serious that we have to bring in outside counsel apart from the military," said Lynch. "We don't want a situation where the military is investigating themselves."
The body of Sergeant Elder Fernandes will be returned to Brockton after an autopsy has been completed.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece misstated that the vigil was held in Portuguese. It was held in Cape Verdean Creole. We regret the error.
This segment aired on August 29, 2020.