Representative Stephen Lynch on Friday called for congressional resources to be brought to bear in a probe of the death of a Brockton soldier whose body was found hanging from a tree in Texas, saying that local investigations of a spate of disappearances and unsolved homicides tied to Fort Hood have not been sufficient.
“We need to bring in a separate investigation, and then we need to do a top-to-bottom review of how this is being handled at Fort Hood,” said Lynch, outside his South Boston home. “You know, in a chain of command, the senior officials, senior officers, the generals are responsible for this.”
Specifically, he broached the possibility of the Department of Defense’s inspector general’s office conducting a probe of the death of Sergeant Elder Fernandes, while adding that some of Fernandes’s loved ones want a more independent investigator, perhaps one appointed by Congress.
“I respect the family’s wishes, so if that . . . is their desire, that’s what I’ll go for,” he said.
Earlier this week, the family of Fernandes learned that the 23-year-old soldier’s body had been found about 25 miles from Fort Hood, from which he disappeared more than a week beforehand, according to the family’s lawyer.
In Brockton, where Fernandes moved from Cape Verde when he was about 8 years old, people gathered for a 7 p.m. vigil outside City Hall to remember him.
Fernandes was the 10th soldier to vanish from Fort Hood in a year. Five of the cases have been deemed unsolved homicides, according to the nonprofit Missing People in America. He was the second soldier since April to go missing amid allegations of sexual abuse. The remains of two missing soldiers were discovered off base June 21 and July 1.
Given the number of ongoing cases, Lynch said local police were stretched thin and that the resources were simply not there “to conduct this type of investigation.” Local authorities in Texas are cooperating with the Army’s criminal investigative command, which conducts felony-level criminal probes, he said.
Lynch, a Democrat whose district includes Brockton, spent a day and a half in Texas in the aftermath of the finding of Fernandes’s body. Referencing the death earlier this year of 20-year-old Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who investigators say was bludgeoned at Fort Hood by a fellow soldier, Lynch said Friday he did not think the response to such incidents has been robust enough.
The soldier suspected in Guillen’s slaying, Specialist Aaron Robinson, died by suicide on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody, and last month Army officials announced they will begin an independent review of the command climate at Fort Hood.
“Many of these incidents involve sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, sexual harassment — that cannot fly,” Lynch said.
While Lynch said there was a pattern of sexual abuse in many of the disappearances, he said he was not sure there was any evidence that pointed to a serial killer being the perpetrator of the unsolved slayings.
“But that’s why we’re asking for an investigation,” he said. “We just don’t know.”
Lynch, who chairs a congressional subcommittee on national security, said Fort Hood authorities have failed to convey that sexual misconduct is unacceptable.
“I think there is a prevailing attitude that’s been allowed to exist on that base and we have not got to the root of it,” he said.
Fernandes’s family, he said, is “absolutely devastated” and frustrated that they have not yet received answers to all of their questions regarding their relative’s death. He thought the lack of answers had exacerbated the family’s anxiety. The family believes the military failed to protect their son and was not being truthful about the circumstances of his death, said Lynch.
“We explained to the military that we were pressing for independent review by an outside party, that we were not satisfied,” he said.
Fernandes, he said, had recently signed up for four more years in the US Army and had planned to make the military his career. His superior officers, according to Lynch, “gave glowing reports of his skills as a soldier, his attitude, and his commitment.”
The soldier’s mother, Ailina Fernandes, flew to Texas last week out of concern for her son. At the time, she did not know her son had reported a sexual assault by a superior officer or that he had since been traumatized and harassed and grown suicidal. She did not know he had been reassigned to a new unit within his brigade for his safety.
She knew her son had been hospitalized since Aug. 11, but she didn’t know why.
On Wednesday, Fort Hood officials disclosed that after a full investigation, allegations of sexual assault that Fernandes had lodged against a superior had not been upheld.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed.
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