Kim Wedel is waiting for her son’s autopsy results. She wants to know how he died, but right now, she’s more focused on learning when.
Pvt. Gregory Morales’ skeletal remains were discovered June 19, about 10 months after he was last seen, in a field several miles from his duty station of Fort Hood, Texas. The 24-year-old’s clothing was shredded and scattered, and he was lightly buried in the dirt.
Wedel said she has “fought from Day One” with the Army and other investigators who told her Morales was AWOL— that he was a grown man who left on his own and that there was no proof anything bad happened to him.
“The proof is he disappeared. He had no money and he’s not answering the phone. There’s something wrong,” Wedel said during a telephone interview. “I was kind of ignored.”
What happened during his final days and how he died remains unknown, or at least not shared by police, who have offered few details to his family.
Even though Morales disappeared days before he was supposed to be discharged, ending an enlistment that began in 2015, the Army placed him on its list of deserters in mid-September 2019. He’s still there, but Army Criminal Investigation Command now suspects foul play in his death. So do local authorities.
“The Killeen Police Department can confirm that foul play is suspected,” Ofelia Miramontez, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email to Army Times. “Since the investigation is ongoing, we are not going to release any other information at this time.”
Until an autopsy determines Morales’ time of death, officials from 1st Cavalry Division, under which Morales served, said they cannot take further action on his status. The autopsy could take another four weeks.
“We’ve been told he’s a deserter unless the autopsy results come back and prove that he’s been dead since he disappeared,” Wedel said. “I don’t know if an autopsy can be that specific, but it would be pretty strange to assume he just disappeared for a few months and then was killed right outside the base.”
Morales was last seen in his personal vehicle off-post in the town of Killeen on Aug. 19, 2019. He was driving a 2018 Black KIA Rio with temporary Texas tags.
The trail for the missing soldier went cold almost immediately. But in May, Wedel’s daughter-in-law, who’s married to her other son, managed to track down Morales’ vehicle on Carfax, showing it had been in Dallas this December and sold at auction.
When she called Army CID, officials told her they already recovered the car in January.
“You don’t think that would be something to tell us? Why keep that a secret?” Wedel asked. “That was the first time that they even came close to admitting they might have screwed up, and maybe something did happen to him since they recovered the car and he wasn’t with it.”
Wedel asked the Army to put up a reward for her missing son in September. But the request didn’t gain traction until April, when she saw that the service was offering $15,000 for information leading to Spc. Vanessa Guillen, another missing Fort Hood soldier, who disappeared April 22 and now is believed to have been killed in an armory on post by a fellow soldier.
Wedel sent an email on April 29, and later placed a call, asking an Army CID agent working her son’s case why no reward was posted for Morales.
“It sounds very selfish, but they immediately put out a reward for information for her,” Wedel added. “In September, they told me they were working on a reward for Greg, and so when hers popped up that fast, I said, ‘Hey, come on, what’s the deal?‘ ”
The next day, a $15,000 reward was posted for her son. It has since been raised to $25,000.
That’s not to say there is any animosity between the families of Morales and Guillen. Wedel noted that Guillen had left items behind during the duty day, including car keys and a wallet, lending more credence to foul play earlier in her case.
And during public press conferences held by the Guillen family to lobby for additional resources in the search for their missing soldier, they repeatedly mentioned Morales name and elevated public awareness about his case, as well.
“Her family did a lot to help me out,” Wedel added. “That is one thing I’m truly thankful for her family for doing, keeping his name out there. Because since the beginning, [the Army and local police] basically told me I was on my own to find him.”
Morales was experiencing some personal issues at the time of his disappearance, and he told his mother that he was saving up money to hire a divorce attorney. Wedel is still in touch with Morales’ wife, whose name the soldier took after marriage.
“Legally, she has the say-so in everything that happens to him, but she has graciously said that anything we want to do, she’ll let us,” Wedel explained. “So we want to bring him back to Oklahoma.”
Morales enlisted out of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, and served as a motor transport operator. He was demoted in rank during his service “for falling asleep on duty,” but he was still supposed to receive an honorable discharge, his mother said.
During his enlistment, Morales received a Good Conduct Medal, which typically indicates three years of service without non-judicial punishments or court-martial offenses. He also deployed to Korea and received two Army Achievement medals.
Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a spokesman for 1st Cavalry Division, said he couldn’t comment on the character of Morales’ discharge since it was never completed. But he did acknowledge that Morales was very close to leaving the Army.
Wedel said she still hasn’t been told what information led authorities to Morales’ body. Although investigators initially said Morales was recovered from a shallow grave, his mother has since been told that her son decomposed in the field and dust likely blew over his remains as they sunk into the ground.
On the night of Morales’ disappearance, he went to a club and later met up with some friends, according to his mother, but she does not know their names. Law enforcement has closely guarded any information they may have in his case, and it’s unclear if those people have been interviewed or if their names are even known to police.
“So whoever he was with that night is the key to all this,” she added. “If they’re not involved, they have to still know something.”
Army CID agents said the Killeen Police Department is leading the investigation into Morales’ death.
Brautigam, the 1st Cavalry Division spokesman, said the unit is fully cooperating with Killeen police and will look at taking further action on Morales’ status after the autopsy is complete.
“Unit leadership is in contact with his family and providing support, as permitted by Army policy, during this difficult time,” Brautigam said in a statement. “We will remain in contact with the family and investigators throughout this process.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.