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Elder Fernandes, missing Fort Hood soldier, found dead

“One of our own, Sergeant Elder Fernandes was found dead,” a lawyer for the soldier's family said. “We are sickened by this tragedy ... We are heartbroken for Elder Fernandes’s family.”

Police in Texas discovered a body on Tuesday confirmed to be Sgt. Elder Fernandes, a 23-year-old Fort Hood soldier who had been missing for nine days.

The body was discovered in Temple, Texas, according to a statement from the Fort Hood Army post on Wednesday. Authorities said previously that the body had been "deceased for some period of time.”

Col. Patrick Disney, 1st Cavalry Division, extended condolences to Fernandes' family and friends in the Wednesday statement.

“Since his absence was reported, we have made a significant, concerted effort to search for him throughout Central Texas," Disney said. "We are grateful for the outpouring of support and assistance we received as we worked to find him."

An attorney for Fernandes’ family, Natalie Khawan, said in a statement, “Our worst nightmare has happened.”

“One of our own, Sergeant Elder Fernandes was found dead,” she said. “We are sickened by this tragedy that has happened one too many times. We are heartbroken for Elder Fernandes’s family.”

Police in Temple, which is about 30 miles east of Fort Hood, said in a statement that the department received a call around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday about a body found near railroad tracks in the city.

Fernandes’ driver’s license was found in a backpack near the body, Khawan told NBC Boston.

Authorities said they did not suspect foul play, but did not specify a cause of death.

Fernandes, of Brockton, Massachusetts, was recently transferred to a different unit because he was an alleged victim of "abusive sexual contact," U.S. Army officials said Saturday. He was last seen Aug 17.

Image: Elder Fernandes
Police in Texas discovered a body on Tuesday they believe belongs to Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23.U.S. Army / via AP

Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a 1st Cavalry Division spokesman told NBC News last week that there was an “open investigation of abusive sexual contact involving Sgt. Fernandes.”

"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," he said. Fernandes was recently transferred from a unit that was deployed to another unit "to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals."

In her statement, Khawan called for a congressional investigation into Fort Hood, which has seen a series of soldier disappearances and deaths in the past year.

Earlier this month, Fort Hood officials recovered the body of Francisco Gilberto Hernandez-Vargas, 24, following an Aug. 2 boating incident on Stillhouse Hollow Lake, a reservoir managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Worth District.

Mejhor Morta, 26, was found unresponsive July 17 in the vicinity of Stillhouse Hollow Lake, according to Fort Hood officials.

On July 1, human remains that were later identified as 20-year-old missing Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen were found about 20 miles east of the base. A suspect in that case, Fort Hood soldier Aaron Robinson, shot and killed himself as police moved in to arrest him. A woman that officials identified as Robinson's girlfriend was arrested and has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of tampering with evidence.

On June 21, skeletal remains were found in a field in Killeen, just over 10 miles from Stillhouse Hollow Lake, which were subsequently identified as 24-year-old missing Fort Hood soldier Gregory Morales. U.S. Army officials have said they suspect foul play in his death.