A soldier and an unidentified 16-year-old boy have been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in the death of a 20-year-old soldier whose body was found partly buried in the snow in Sussex County, New Jersey, on Dec. 19.
Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, and the unnamed teen were charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and second-degree weapons charges in the death of Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20, according to the New Jersey Herald, the Army Times and Syracuse.com.
The charges were announced Monday in a press release from Sussex County Prosecutor Francis A. Koch.
Harris, originally from Tennessee, had been stationed at upstate New York’s Fort Drum base since July 2019, according to the Associated Press, and friends said it was his lifelong dream to join the Army.
Harris’ last known activity on the night of Dec. 17 was traveling from Fort Drum to Glen Park (about 20 minutes away) to meet up with Mellish for a vehicle exchange, according to officials. They intended to swap Mellish's Ford Mustang for Harris’ white Chevrolet Silverado, Sussex County First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller previously told the New Jersey Herald.
But authorities believe the car swap went bad and that Mellish -- with the teen in the pickup -- abducted Harris, drove him nearly 300 miles away, to Byram Township, and then fatally shot him.
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Harris’ body was found there on Dec. 19 with a gunshot wound to the head after local firefighters allegedly discovered him in a wooded area off a cul-de-sac during their “annual Santa ride through the township,” according to the Associated Press.
"[Harris'] death is a tremendous loss for his loved ones, this division and our nation,” Brigadier Gen. Brett Funck, acting commander for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, previously said in a statement.
Mellish is now being held in military custody in Oneida County, New York, while the teenage suspect is in a juvenile detention facility, according to the Sussex County press release.
It is unclear whether Mellish has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
Anyone with information about this case can contact Lt. Nicholas Elmo at the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office 973-383-1570 or Det. Robert Tierney at the Byram Township Police Department at 973-347-4008.