Tennessee native Hayden Harris, 20, was killed by a fellow soldier in New Jersey last week.
Corporal Harris enlisted in the Army in March 2019 and was stationed at Fort Drum in New York at the time of his death.
Brigadier General Brett Funck, acting senior commander, 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, said in a statement.
“It was well known here that Corporal Harris was a great soldier…As we share our grief with his friends and family, I hear again and again how he was also – and most importantly – a really wonderful, caring person. His death is a tremendous loss for his loved ones, this division and our nation.”
UPDATE: Corporal Harris has been found deceased, and the investigation is on-going.
"We are grateful to everyone who shared his picture or said a prayer for his safe return… keep his Family in your thoughts and prayers, as we will," said Brig. Gen. Brett Funck pic.twitter.com/T90z3AWMrQ
— 10th Mountain Div. (@10MTNDIV) December 20, 2020
Here’s what police have learned so far.
1. Harris Was Reported Missing Last Week
Authorities were alerted that Harris was a missing person.
He had last been heard from between the evening of December 17 and the morning of December 18.
His body was discovered on December 19 in a wooded area in New Jersey; he had suffered a gunshot wound.
Byram Township Fire Department spotted unusual items on the side of the road during their annual Santa ride around that ultimately led to the discovery of Harris’ body.
Those items included an umbrella, sneakers, and a disposable food container; the snow nearby was red as if stained with blood.
About 200 yards away from the disturbed snow, Harris’ body was found.
2. A Car Swap Gone Bad
Corporal Hayden Harris left Fort Drum Thursday for a car-related meet up. He never returned.
His body was found Sunday. https://t.co/PTydcnnMfZ
— 🎄Seth-a Claus Is Coming To Town 🎅🏼 (@sethpalmer3) December 21, 2020
Near the victim’s body was vehicle paperwork with Harris’ name as well as the name of Private Jamaal Mellish, also a soldier at Fort Drum.
Mellish, 23 and Harris had planned to swap cars.
It is believed the two were scheduled to meet in Watertown, New York make the trade.
Byram Township police provided more detail on the department’s Facebook page.
“Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Harris for a Chevy pickup truck. Mellish is also a US Army soldier and had a previous transaction with Harris.”
Chief Kenneth C. Burke of the Byram Township Police Department added:
“It seems like they were swapping them back.”
It is unclear who owned which vehicle.
3. What Investigators Believe Happened
Here is the sequence of events that has been pieced together so far.
- Mellish kidnapped Harris in Watertown, New York.
- He drove Harris in the Chevy Silverado truck (one of the vehicles involved in the swap) to Byram Township, New Jersey.
- Mellish may not have operated alone; a juvenile was reportedly in the truck with Harris and Mellish.
- The juvenile’s role in the crime is being investigated.
Byram Township, New Jersey has not had a murder for almost a century so the discovery of Harris’ body there is puzzling.
Furthermore, this is a small rural community with population of about 8,000 people.
Mayor Alex Rubenstein also provided more detail on the exact location of Harris’ body.
“[It is] a dead-end street with only a number of houses on it…deep inside a housing development…You’re not driving up there unless you live up there; it doesn’t go anywhere…There’s no reason to be there.”
Pending extradition from New York to New Jersey, Private Mellish is expected to be charged with murder, kidnapping, and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.
It is not known if he has retained an attorney at this time.
An autopsy is scheduled on Harris after the Christmas holiday.