BYRAM TOWNSHIP, NJ (Sussex County) – Corporal Hayden Harris, a 20-year-old soldier who went missing from Fort Drum, New York, has been found dead.
First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller told the New Jersey Herald that Harris was found shot to death in a wooded area off a cul-de-sac on Ross Road in Byram Township on Saturday afternoon and a fellow soldier has been taken into custody.
Harris, who was assigned to C Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, was reportedly last heard from between 8:00 p.m. Dec. 17 and 6:30 a.m. Dec. 18, Fort Drum officials said.
Harris was meeting with a fellow soldier, Jamaal Mellish, 23, in Watertown, New York, near Fort Drum for “some type of vehicle exchange” when the meeting escalated, Mueller told the newspaper.
Authorities believe Mellish “abducted” Harris in Harris’ 2017 white Chevrolet Silverado and drove him to the New York City area and eventually across the state, Mueller said. A juvenile, whose identity has not been released, was also in the vehicle, according to the news report.
The 2016 Ford Mustang Coupe he was reportedly driving has been accounted for, officials said.
Byram firefighters stumbled upon the scene Saturday when they noticed personal belongings near the Ross Road cul-de-sac, including documents and a pair of shoes. They notified Byram police when they found blood, Mueller told the newspaper.
Mellish was taken into custody in Watertown and he is being held awaiting an extradition hearing to Sussex County. Criminal charges in New Jersey that will include murder and weapons charges will be presented to a judge shortly ,the news report said.
“We are working very closely with several law enforcement agencies, to include Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and Sussex County Prosecutors Office, and the Bryam Township Police Department on this investigation. We greatly appreciate their work on this ongoing case,” said Chris Grey, spokesman for Army CID.
“We are devastated,” said Brig. Gen. Brett Funck, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum acting senior commander.
“It was well known here that Cpl. Harris was a great Soldier, and 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,” he said.
Harris, of Guys, Tennessee, joined the Army in March 2019. After training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he arrived at Fort Drum, New York, in July 2019.
His awards and decorations include two Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Army Service Ribbon. He graduated Air Assault School in 2019.
He is survived by his mother, father and sister.
Harris was posthumously promoted to the rank of corporal and awarded the Army Commendation Medal, a solemn end to the vigil the unit had kept since the early hours of Friday, Dec. 18. Just hours after members of the unit lost contact with Harris, they reported him missing.
“Cpl. Harris had excellent teammates in the 1-89 Cavalry Regiment. I am proud of their quick action and hope that they can find some comfort in knowing they ultimately helped law enforcement officers locate Cpl. Harris and greatly empowered the investigation into his disappearance,” Funck said.
“We are grateful to everyone who shared his picture or said a prayer for his safe return, and we ask that you continue to tell the story of this great Soldier, and keep his Family in your thoughts and prayers, as we will,” Funck said.
“Our community is far-flung but close-knit. And in very tough times like this, we are especially grateful for the incredible relationships we have with our families, our friends, our community, and our partners,” Funck said.