WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The Fort Drum soldier killed over the weekend was remembered Monday as kind and happy and taken far too soon.
The body of Hayden Harris, 20, was found Saturday in woods off a road in Byram Township, northern New Jersey. He was mostly covered by snow.
Harris had been shot to death.
Another Fort Drum soldier, Jamaal Mellish, 23, was in the Oneida County jail Monday. Authorities in New Jersey said they anticipate charging him with murder, after getting an official “cause of death.”
Right now, Mellish is being held on what is described as a “military offense.”
It is possible Mellish will face charges in both civilian and military courts.
A third person, a 16 year old male allegedly connected to the killing, was also in custody Monday. Because of his age, little could be learned about his status.
“He (Harris) just came home before Thanksgiving. He visited with friends and he visited with his family. He stopped by and saw us at the school,” Amber Leonard, his high school guidance counselor, recalled Monday.
“He was just one of the happiest kids I’ve ever met, he was just one of the kindest souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to cross paths with.”
Harris is from Guys, Tennessee and graduated from McNairy Central High School in 2018.
The police chief of Byram Township, New Jersey says paperwork found at the scene of Harris’s death ties Mellish to the case.
Police chief Kenneth Burke said the weapon used to shoot Harris had not been recovered as of Monday morning.
Burke said his detectives were in the north country to question Mellish.
Harris went missing Thursday night, when he apparently met up with Mellish in Watertown.
“I know that he was involved in some kind of a vehicle transaction up in Watertown that went bad, I guess, and something happened here in Byram township,” Burke said.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the chief said Harris and Mellish were meeting to swap vehicles - a Ford Mustang for Harris’s Chevy pick-up. When Harris first went missing, Fort Drum officials circulated a photograph of a Ford Mustang.
It wasn’t clear Monday how the two men ended up in a remote part of northern New Jersey.
Authorities believe Mellish abducted Harris in Harris’s own truck and drove him first to New York City and then to New Jersey.
Mellish returned to Watertown in Harris’s truck, where he was taken into custody by Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies at 9:30 Friday night.
Investigators were able to tie Mellish to the case quickly, the chief said, because “There was some paperwork found at the scene that connected the two of them.”
Mellish “had a previous transaction with Harris,” Chief Burke said in the statement.
Harris was a native of Guys, Tennessee, and joined the Army in March of 2019. He was an infantryman from the 2nd Brigade’s 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment.
On Sunday, 10th Mountain Division Acting Senior Commander, Brigadier General Brett Funck wrote, “We are devastated. It was well known here that Corporal Harris was a great Soldier, and as we share our grief with his friends and Family, I hear again and again how he was also - and most importantly - a really wonderful, caring person. His death is a tremendous loss for his loved ones, this Division and our nation.”
Harris was posthumously promoted to the rank of Corporal and awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
He is survived by his mother, father, and sister.
“This world lost a light,” said Leonard, the guidance counselor. “He was just an extremely special person and this world will be a little darker without him.”