WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - “We’re celebrating his life tonight. That’s what we’re going to do. Even though it was a short life, we’re celebrating his life tonight,” said Pastor Jeffrey Smith of the First Baptist Church.
A large group gathered at the Tenth Mountain Division Monument at Thompson Park Wednesday night.
The focus: Corporal Hayden Harris. The 20-year-old Fort Drum soldier, and Tennessee native, who was killed in New Jersey over the weekend. Several people spoke to honor his life, including a fellow soldier:
“Corporal Harris was not only a great soldier, but one of the most polite and respectful individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”
Pastor Jeffrey Smith of the First Baptist Church said this was a chance for the military and north country communities to stand side-by-side and grieve together.
Among the handful of people that spoke was Lieutenant Colonel Jon Chavous, CPL Harris’ unit commander with the 1st squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division. He said Harris held distinct qualities.
“I will personally miss CPL Harris, and seeing him around the squadron area with his bright red hair and almost permanent smile, “ LTC Chavous said, “He will be missed by all of us within the squadron.”
“I understand every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face. So I know he’s smiling now at each and every one of you,” said Pastor Smith.
And despite it being a cold night, people still came to show their support. More than fifty people attended the vigil.
“Just shows that the community stands behind Fort Drum, and the community and their sympathy goes out to Corporal Harris and his family,” said Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith.
Other soldiers who worked with Harris also spoke about their friend and fellow soldier Wednesday evening.
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Chavous said that the best way to honor the memory of Corporal Harris is by living life the way he did. By serving our community in an honorable manner and living up to the values that we hold dear.
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.”
Harris went missing Thursday night, when he apparently met up with Mellish in Watertown, for some sort of vehicle transaction.
The police chief of Byram Township, New Jersey says paperwork found at the scene of Harris’s death ties Mellish to the case. As of Wednesday, there was no word yet of Mellish being formally charged.
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.
Harris was posthumously promoted to the rank of Corporal and awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
He is survived by his mother, father, and sister.