By MATT SEYLER, ABC News
(KILLEEN, Texas) — As the search for missing Fort Hood soldier Sgt. Elder Fernandes continues, his unit at a Texas base says he seems to have left by choice.
“Information gathered from fellow soldiers indicate Sgt. Fernandes left on his own accord,” the 1st Cavalry Division said in a statement over the weekend.
The unit also reaffirmed that the search for Fernandes, 23, will continue until he is found.
“Soldiers have visited local hotels and hospitals throughout central Texas and continue to expand their search efforts,” the statement said. “The chain of command is working closely with local civilian and military agencies to coordinate search efforts.”
Fernandes’ mother and aunt told ABC News on Friday that he was admitted to an on-base hospital this month. They said they spoke to him several times while there, but that he was vague as to nature of his visit. They said they did not hear from him again after Sunday, Aug. 16, the day before Fernandes was discharged.
A 1st Cavalry Division official confirmed that Fernandes was hospitalized from Aug. 11 to Aug. 17.
According to police, Fernandes was last seen by his staff sergeant on the afternoon of the 17th, who dropped him off at a residence in nearby Killeen, Texas, police said.
His aunt, Isabel Fernandes, said he used to live at the address, but his former roommate told the family he had not stayed there for some time and never entered after he was dropped off outside.
Division spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam also confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into claims Fernandes made of “abusive sexual contact” toward him. He added that updates will be given once the investigation is complete.
Fernandes’ older brother, Elton Fernandes, told ABC News that he spoke with him about the alleged incident about a month ago, which he said involved another man grabbing Elder Fernandes’ buttocks.
Elton Fernandes said his brother told him “not to worry about it, because he’s taking care of it.”
In its statement Sunday, the 1st Cavalry Division called for Fernandes to return to the base and resume care.
“Our priority remains to ensure Sgt. Fernandes’ safety and we ask him to reach out to his leadership, his family, the local police or a nearby hospital or clinic so we can ensure he receives the care he needs,” the statement said.
While family members told ABC News they were dissatisfied with the communication they’d received from the Army, the 1st Cavalry Division said the command intends to share as much information with them as possible and has been talking with the family regularly since Fernandes was hospitalized.
“His immediate leadership initiated communication with the Family before his current disappearance and has met with them daily since their arrival. We met again with them in person [Sunday],” the statement said.
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