This article by Haley Britzky originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues.
An Army private reported missing last year from Fort Hood, Texas and whose remains were later discovered during a search for Spc. Vanessa Guillén will now be buried with full military honors.
Pvt. Gregory Morales, 24, joined the Army in 2015 and was assigned to the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in November 2016. He was last seen on Aug. 19, 2019, according to Army Times, days before he was set to be discharged from the service.
The Army originally classified him as absent without leave (AWOL) and later listed him as a deserter, though his name no longer appears on the Army's list.
Morales' remains were discovered in a field on June 19 as investigators were searching for another missing soldier, Spc. Vanessa Guillén. The Army said at the time that foul play was suspected in the investigation of Morales' death.
Though the Army eventually put up a $15,000 reward for credible information about his disappearance, that wasn't until over nine months after he was last heard from, according to the Washington Post. Per the Post, the award was announced one day after Morales' mother emailed asked why there was no reward out for her son, while there was one for Guillén.
On June 15, that reward was increased to $25,000, the Post reported.
Morales' family has fought the Army's characterization of him as a deserter, claiming that he was killed.
"He wasn't a deserter," Morales' cousin, Abigail Wimberly, said according to KTBC, the Austin, Texas, Fox-affiliate. "He was a soldier that got murdered."
According to a Fort Hood press release, Morales' status was changed "from dropped from rolls to active duty ... based on trustworthy investigative updates into his disappearance," meaning he is entitled to burial with full military honors.
"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," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, said in the release.
Morales' death is still being investigated by the Killeen Police Department.
His family started an online petition last week to raise public support for him receiving military honors at his funeral.
The petition also calls for an investigation into the Killeen and Fort Hood police "for their lack of investigation skills over the years." At the time of this article's publishing, there were over 38,000 signatures on the petition.
"The military failed him by not looking," Morales' mother, Kimberly Wedel, told the Post of her son's death. "They just assumed the worst and let it go."
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