A dispute over a car swap appeared to have played a role in the killing of Cpl. Hayden Allen Harris. A fellow soldier was expected to be charged in connection with his death, the authorities said.
Two Fort Drum soldiers’ plans to exchange cars late last week ended with one soldier dead in a remote part of New Jersey and the other arrested and expected to face murder and kidnapping charges, officials said.
Cpl. Hayden Allen Harris, 20, was found dead in a pile of snow on Saturday, and though the events leading up to his death remain unclear, prosecutors announced the arrest of Pfc. Jamaal Mellish, 23.
Private Mellish was expected to be charged with murder, kidnapping and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, after which he was expected to be extradited to New Jersey, said Gregory Mueller, first assistant prosecutor in Sussex County, N.J.
Authorities said a disagreement between the men appeared to center on the exchange of a Ford Mustang for a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
Mr. Mueller said investigators believe Private Mellish abducted Corporal Harris, driving him in the Silverado from Watertown, which is southwest of Fort Drum and about 71 miles north of Syracuse, to Byram Township, N.J., some 50 miles west of the George Washington Bridge. A third person, a juvenile whose involvement was still under investigation, was also in the truck, Mr. Mueller said.
Chief Kenneth C. Burke of the police department in Byram Township, N.J., where Corporal Harris’s body was found, said the cars had been swapped before, but it was not clear who owned which car.
“It seems like they were swapping them back,” Chief Burke said. He said he was not aware of any connection that Private Mellish or Corporal Harris had to the township.
Mr. Mueller said on Monday that Private Mellish was being held by the Oneida County Sheriff’s Department in Oriskany, N.Y., about 70 miles south of Fort Drum. It was not clear on Monday if Private Mellish had a lawyer.
A medical examiner was expected to conduct an autopsy of Corporal Harris’s body on Monday, Mr. Mueller said.
Corporal Harris was posthumously promoted from the rank of specialist, the Army said.
Members of the township’s Fire Department called the police after they spotted papers and shoes in a cul-de-sac on Saturday, the town’s mayor, Alex Rubenstein, said in a telephone interview on Sunday night. At the time they saw the items, the firefighters were escorting a man dressed as Santa Claus in a decorated fire truck as he handed out candy canes to children, Mr. Rubenstein said.
The police found Corporal Harris’s body, with a gunshot wound, in the woods behind the homes in the cul-de-sac, Mr. Mueller, the prosecutor, said.
Officials believe Corporal Harris was killed there, Mr. Mueller said. Chief Burke said the body was hidden underneath a pile of snow.
He said police also found documents in a folder on the ground outlining the vehicle swap between the two men.
Mr. Rubenstein said the killing was “very unusual” for Byram Township, where, to the best of his knowledge, there had not been a murder for nearly a century. He described the township as a “small, rural bedroom community” of about 8,000 people.
Residents, he said, were “really mystified by how whatever was happening found its way to our town.” The area where the body was found — “a dead-end street with only a number of houses on it” — is “deep inside” a housing development, Mr. Rubenstein said.
“You’re not driving up there unless you live up there; it doesn’t go anywhere,” he said. “There’s no reason to be there.”
Corporal Harris, of Guys, Tenn., joined the Army in March 2019 and arrived at Fort Drum in July 2019 after he completed his training at Fort Benning, Ga., according to a statement from Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division. In that time he earned several awards and decorations, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon, the Army said.
“We are devastated,” Brig. Gen. Brett T. Funck, the acting senior commander of Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, said in the statement. “His death is a tremendous loss for his loved ones, this division and our nation.”
Relatives of Corporal Harris declined to comment on Monday.