March 8, 2021

Firefighters playing Santa stumble upon slain soldier missing from New York base


A US soldier who had gone missing from his New York base was found dead after firefighters who were handing out candy canes in a neighborhood saw blood on a snowbank, a New Jersey police department said.

Hayden harris

The discovery was among the details that emerged as authorities announced the arrest of a fellow soldier in the murder of Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20.

Harris was last seen around 8 pm Thursday as he left Fort Drum, New York, for nearby Watertown, reportedly to conduct some sort of vehicle transaction. His teammates at the base reported him missing when he hadn’t returned early Friday. On Sunday, Fort Drum’s commander announced the young man was dead.

The body had been found Saturday afternoon in Byram Township, New Jersey – a 275-mile drive from Watertown, which is near the Canadian border.

Firefighters from Byram Township had been on a “Santa run” Saturday, driving a fire engine through neighborhoods with a costumed Santa handing out candy. As they turned around in a cul-de-sac in a forested residential area, they saw items strewn near the road – shoes, an umbrella, papers – and then noticed what appeared to be blood on the snow, according to an account from the township police.

The firefighters contacted police, who sent three officers to investigate. Two hundred yards past the cul-de-sac, they found Harris’ body, “mostly buried under snow.” He had apparently been shot to death.

The papers found near the scene concerned a vehicle transaction and bore the names of Harris and another Fort Drum soldier, Jamaal Mellish, 23.

Mellish was arrested in the Watertown area and is expected to be extradited to New Jersey, where a Sussex County prosecutor said he will face murder and weapons charges.

Mellish is believed to have abducted Harris and driven him to New Jersey in the victim’s own Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, prosecutor Gregory Mueller told the New Jersey Herald. A juvenile, whose identity has not been released, was reportedly also in the vehicle.

Harris was thought to have left Fort Drum in another vehicle he owned, a 2016 Ford Mustang. That car was found abandoned on Friday, investigators said.

Harris was from Guys, Tennessee, and neither he nor Mellish is believed to have ties to the north New Jersey area where the body was found.


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