NJ fire crew on Santa run found bloody snow, missing soldier’s body
BYRAM — Township firefighters carrying out their annual Santa ride on Saturday made the grim discovery of blood in snow, which led to the body of a missing Army soldier.
Police said in a written statement that they responded to the wooded area near Ross Road on Saturday after 2 p.m. and recovered the body of 20-year-old Cpl. Hayden Harris, who was partly buried under snow. Harris had been reported as missing from Fort Drum in New York a day earlier.
Township police said that when they got in touch with the U.S. Army and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, they already had Jamaal Mellish, also an Army soldier, in custody as a suspect in Harris' disappearance.
Sussex County First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller on Sunday confirmed to New Jersey 101.5 that 23-year-old Mellish was being accused of "abducting" Harris and eventually driving him into North Jersey, where Mueller said Harris was found shot to death, as first reported by New Jersey Herald and NJ.com.
While Sussex County prosecutors have said that Harris was shot, they have not publicly accused anyone of killing him and homicide charges have not been announced against Mellish. Authorities have provided few details that describe the moments before Harris’ death.
Township firefighters on Saturday also had found sneakers near the same area off Ross Road and paperwork from a previous vehicle transaction, with the names of both Harris and Mellish on it, police said.
Police said on Monday that Harris and Mellish had planned to meet for a new vehicle transaction, in which Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Harris for a Chevy pickup truck.
As of Monday, Mellish was being held in New York on charges of kidnapping. Police added that a juvenile also was involved but that no further information would be released on the juvenile.
Investigators from Byram police, the Sussex County Prosecutors Office and New Jersey State Police crime scene unit are said to be part of the investigation in Watertown, New York, where Mellish is being held.
It is expected Mellish will be sent to New Jersey following an extradition hearing, police said.
A community vigil in memory of Harris is set for Wednesday at 5 p.m. near Fort Drum, at the 10th Mountain Division Monument.