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Dead soldier, formerly listed as AWOL, is finally taken off list of deserters

The Army pulled the name of a deceased Fort Hood soldier off its list of deserters as it has become increasingly likely that the soldier’s disappearance last summer, and ultimately his death, involved foul play.

In September 2019, the 1st Cavalry Division “dropped” Pvt. Gregory Morales’ from its accountability rolls after he had been missing for about a month. However, Morales’ remains were discovered in a field just miles from the central Texas installation on June 19, and investigators now suspect foul play in the death.

The missing soldier’s mother, Kim Wedel, previously told Army Times that she has “fought from Day One” with investigators from the Army and other agencies, who repeatedly told her that Morales was most likely AWOL.

But on Tuesday night, Army officials called Wedel to let her know that her son was being reinstated to reflect that he was on active duty at the time of his death.

“This means we can have a funeral with military honors for him,” Wedel said. “I feel like we just won the first battle in the war. It’s good but we are just starting. … Today is a better day, though. My family will spend the day making funeral plans and then we will regroup for the next fight of finding out who did this to him.”

Something has to change on Fort Hood and in the town of Killeen, which surrounds the post, Wedel said, and not all of that responsibility is on the Army.

“There are people there who prey on soldiers,” she said, alluding to Killeen’s reputation in the Army as a high-crime area.

The decision to reinstate Morales was not influenced by any new evidence in the investigation, according to Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble.

The investigation “has not produced any new evidence at this time and has no bearing in his administrative status,” Kimble said in a statement. ”[Killeen police] will contact the Morales’ family directly if and when there are any new developments in Gregory’s case. Our focus is to find the individual(s) who did this hideous crime to Gregory.”

For months, there were very few developments in Morales’ case.

The 24-year-old soldier, who was days from leaving the Army after four years of service, was last seen driving a 2018 Black KIA Rio with temporary Texas tags in Killeen on Aug. 19, 2019. His family later found a Carfax report stating that the KIA Rio had been sold at auction in December.

When Wedel called Army Criminal Investigation Command to alert them of the sale, the CID agents there told her they had already recovered the car in January.

“You don’t think that would be something to tell us? Why keep that a secret?” Wedel previously told Army Times when detailing her frustrations with the lack of transparency in the case.

A $15,000 reward for information leading to Morales was finally posted by Army CID this spring after they issued a similar reward offer for Spc. Vanessa Guillen, another soldier at Fort Hood. Guillen disappeared April 22 and law enforcement officials now believe she was killed on post by a fellow soldier.

Authorities ultimately found Morales’ remains lightly buried in a field not far from Fort Hood. Wedel said she doesn’t know what information led authorities to her lost son. After identifying the remains, Killen police and Army CID agreed that foul play is suspected in the death.

Gregory Morales, right, joined the Army in 2015 was going to receive an honorable discharge just days before he disappeared, his mother said. (Courtesy of Wedel family)
Gregory Morales, right, joined the Army in 2015 was going to receive an honorable discharge just days before he disappeared, his mother said. (Courtesy of Wedel family)

But the acknowledgment that Morales might have been the victim of a crime did not immediately lead to his name being stricken from the deserter list in the weeks after his remains were found.

Officials told Army Times last week that they were waiting for an autopsy to determine whether the soldier had been dead since he disappeared.

Lt. Col. Chris Brautigam, a spokesman for 1st Cavalry Division, said Morales’ status was changed this week “based on trustworthy investigative updates into his disappearance in coordination with investigators.”

The 1st Cavalry Division has remained in contact with Morales’ family and civilian law enforcement during the investigation, Brautigam said. The investigation is being led by the Killeen Police Department, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

“While no words or gestures can make up for the loss of a family member, friend, or fellow soldier like Gregory Morales, we hope that this news will comfort his family and the friends he served with in this time of terrible grief,” said Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division.

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