Two dozen protesters in face masks marched from Brockton High School to City Hall on Monday to demand answers in the death of Army Sergeant Elder N. Fernandes, who disappeared from his base in August and was found dead more than a week later.
Leonilde Fernandes, an aunt of the late 23-year-old, held a picket sign reading “Justice for Elder Fernandes!” as she spoke with reporters through a white surgical mask about the pain of her family’s loss and the frustration of not knowing the full circumstances of her nephew’s death.
“We’re suffering every day,” Fernandes said. “We need to know what happened to Elder.”
Elder Fernandes grew up in Brockton after immigrating to the United States from Cape Verde with his family as a child. He was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, where he reported that a superior officer had sexually assaulted him and said he was subsequently harassed, according to family and friends.
Fernandes was hospitalized in mid-August and disappeared on the day he was released, according to relatives. His body was found on Aug. 25, hanging from a tree about 25 miles from Fort Hood, the Army said. A preliminary autopsy determined that he had died by suicide.
Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, has been under scrutiny following the deaths of 28 people, five of which were ruled homicides. The rest were ruled accidents, suicides, deaths related to illness, or are still under investigation.
Local elected officials in Brockton; US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey; and US Representatives Stephen F. Lynch, Ayanna Pressley, and Katherine Clark have called for a full accounting of Fernandes’s death and those of the other Fort Hood soldiers.
Last month, Congress announced that it would launch an investigation into sexual assaults, disappearances, deaths, and the leadership’s response at Fort Hood.
Lynch, Pressley, and Clark were part of a congressional delegation last month that visited the base, where they said service members are living in conditions comparable to badly neglected public housing, with roaches, rodents, asbestos, and black mold present.
As marchers in Brockton made the 2-mile trek on Monday, Izabel Depina led a chant of, “Shut Down Fort Hood.” Two demonstrators leading the group held a banner that read, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! Black liberation now!”
Isabel Fernandes, another aunt of Elder Fernandes, said her family is “frustrated because we still don’t have any answers.”
“They haven’t released the medical records,” said Isabel Fernandes, who was not able to attend Monday’s march. “We have a family member dead — and we still don’t know why he was in the hospital.”
Elder Fernandes’s parents are “devastated” and feel powerless, Isabel Fernandes said, and the family doesn’t understand why the Army is still withholding information.
“According to them, it was a suicide, so just release everything,” she said.
Elder Fernandes was identified by dental records, she said, and his body was returned to the family for his funeral in a closed casket. The family has not seen the body, she said, and they have not been told how he got to the site where he was found, roughly 25 miles from Fort Hood.
“We need to know what happened to Elder Fernandes,” his aunt said. “It’s just incredibly frustrating. We don’t have closure, and I don’t know if we’re ever going to get closure.”
Jessica Rinaldi of the Globe staff contributed to this report.