BROCKTON — The grieving family of Army Sergeant Elder Fernandes spoke with emotion Friday evening during a candlelit vigil outside City Hall as they remembered their loved one and called for justice in his death.
“It could have been my son,” said his aunt, Nilda Fernandes, holding up a photo of her smiling nephew in his dress uniform.
She asked the crowd of more than 100 how she is supposed to tell her two young children that their beloved cousin is dead. Fernandes, 23, who grew up in Brockton after immigrating to the US from Cape Verde as a child, was found dead Tuesday, more than a week after he went missing from Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, according to relatives and officials.
One woman began sobbing loudly as the crowd of family members, local residents, and elected officials slowly took seats in the small amphitheater at City Hall, where an American flag flew at half-staff.
John Sequeira, demanded justice for his nephew.
“We know he went there for a good cause,” he said to the crowd. “He went to serve the country and he’s not with us anymore for a bad reason, for something that shouldn’t happen. … We want our voice to go from here in Brockton to Congress to Texas — to Fort Hood.”
Fernandes’s body was found Tuesday, hanging from a tree about 25 miles from Fort Hood, where he had last been seen more than a week earlier, his family said earlier this week.
Police said his death did not appear to involve foul play.
His mother, Ailina Fernandes, and aunt, Isabel Fernandes, had both flown to Texas to join the search. The pair were still there Friday night, hoping to learn answers about Elder’s death.
In a brief phone interview, Isabel Fernandes said they were “devastated” by his death but expressed hope they will get the answers they seek.
“We’ve got everybody working on it,” she said by telephone from Texas.
Fernandes had endured bullying and harassment after he reported a sexual assault by a male superior in May, according to family and friends.
He was the 10th soldier to vanish from Fort Hood in a year, and the second 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.
Representative Stephen Lynch, whose district includes Brockton, spoke during the nearly hour long vigil.
He traveled to Texas this week to meet with the family and officials at Fort Hood. Lynch said he is working with US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey to ensure that Fernandes’s death is fully investigated.
Before leaving Texas, he said, he told Ailina and Isabel Fernandes about the vigil , and they expressed their appreciation for the community’s support.
“The thing the Fernandez family needs most now is your prayers,” Lynch said.
City Councilor Moises M. Rodrigues said organizers originally planned the vigil to pray for Fernandes’ safe return. Instead, three days after his body was found, they gathered to mourn.
“There’s a lot of us that have a lot of questions,” Rodrigues said to the crowd. “And we are here demanding answers.”
City Councilor Tina Cardoso spoke of the community’s pain in losing a promising young life.
“May he rest in peace, and may God bless his family and guide them to the peace they need in their hearts,” she said.