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BYRAM TOWNSHIP, N.J. – A U.S. Army soldier and a 16-year-old boy are being held in the slaying of a missing Fort Drum soldier whose body was found buried in the New Jersey snow less than a week before Christmas.

Pvt. Jamaal Mellish, 23, of Brooklyn, and the unnamed teen are each charged with murder, kidnapping and weapons charges in the fatal shooting of Cpl. Hayden Allen Harris, 20, whose body was discovered Dec. 19 in a wooded area of Byram Township. According to Sussex County prosecutors, Mellish is also charged with the suppression of evidence.

Mellish is being held in the Oneida County, New York, jail awaiting extradition to New Jersey to face the charges. His co-defendant is being held in a juvenile facility.

>> Related story: Missing Fort Drum soldier found dead in New Jersey snow

Harris, a native of Guys, Tennessee, vanished overnight Dec. 17 after going to Watertown, New York, for a vehicle transaction, Fort Drum officials said. Fort Drum is located about 15 miles outside of Watertown near New York’s border with Canada.

Two days later, Byram Township firefighters participating in their annual Santa ride through the township nearly 300 miles away made a gruesome discovery.

“The fire department was turning around in the cul-de-sac at the end of Ross Road when they noticed debris alongside the roadway including an umbrella, sneakers and a disposable food container,” Byram Township police officials said. “The top of the snow was stained with what appeared to be blood.”

Byram Township fire Chief Todd Rudloff said firefighters came upon the “eerie sight” as a volunteer dressed as Santa perched atop an engine truck.

“It was the feeling that something wasn’t right,” Rudloff told the New Jersey Herald.

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The firefighters called in police officers, who began scouring the wooded area.

“During a search of the disturbed area in the snow, the victim’s body was found approximately 200 yards into the wooded area, mostly buried under snow,” police officials said.

Harris had been shot in the head, according to the newspaper. The killing is believed to be the first in Byram Township in 99 years.

Paperwork found with Harris’ body bore Mellish’s name. WWNY in Watertown reported that the document was a receipt from a previous vehicle transaction between the two men.

According to the Herald, the receipt led investigators to Google, where they found news reports about the missing Fort Drum soldier.

Rudloff and his firefighters took an American flag from the flagpole at a nearby firehouse. When Harris’ body was carried from the woods, he was draped in the flag, the paper reported.

Detectives contacted the Army and civilian authorities in New York and learned that Mellish was in custody in connection with Harris’ disappearance, police officials said.

“During their investigation, it was determined that the suspect, Jamaal Mellish, and Harris were going to meet for a vehicle transaction,” Byram Township authorities said. “Mellish was supposed to exchange a Ford Mustang with Harris for a Chevy pickup truck.”

Hayden Harris

The body of missing Fort Drum soldier Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20, was found buried in snow Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Byram Township, N.J. Authorities allege Harris was slain by a fellow soldier who he met with to exchange vehicles, including the Ford Mustang pictured.

First Assistant Sussex County Prosecutor Gregory Mueller told the Herald that Mellish is accused of abducting Harris after the two soldiers met to exchange vehicles. A dispute between the men may have played a part in the kidnapping, the prosecutor said.

Authorities believe Mellish, driving his Silverado, took Harris more than 300 miles south to Brooklyn before crossing the state line into New Jersey. It is unclear how or why they ended up in the cul-de-sac where Harris was slain.

The teen suspect, who was in the truck when Harris was abducted and killed, has provided information to authorities, the prosecutor told the newspaper.

Harris, who joined the Army in March 2019, arrived at Fort Drum that July following training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was an infantryman in the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

“We are devastated,” Brigadier Gen. Brett Funck, the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum acting senior commander, said in a statement last month. “It was well known here that Cpl. 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.”

Details of Mellish’s service were not immediately available. He is reportedly a native of Jamaica.

According to Harris’ obituary, the 2018 graduate of McNairy Central High School, known as “Opie” because of his red hair and freckles, was an accomplished baseball player and golfer.

“He was known for his infectious smile, sincere heart and love for people,” the obituary said.

On Christmas Eve, Byram Township police officials said they’d met with Harris’ family earlier that week. He is survived by his parents and his sister, who visited Byram Township to visit the spot where Harris was found.

“They wanted to see where their son took his last breath,” Rudloff told the Herald. “It was pretty emotional. We talked to them, we hugged them and we all said a prayer together.”

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Police investigators and firefighters in the small township will “forever be touched” by the devastation Harris’ death has caused his loved ones, authorities said.

“Though Cpl. Harris did not ask to become a part of this community, he will forever be treated as one of our own,” police officials said. “Please keep this young man and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

In his short stint in the Army, Harris was awarded two Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon. Harris, who graduated from Air Assault School last year, was posthumously promoted to the rank of corporal.

The fire department voted to name Harris an honorary firefighter. A plaque presented to his family was displayed at his funeral, which was held in Corinth, Mississippi, just across the state line from Guys, on New Year’s Eve.

Hayden Harris

The body of missing Fort Drum soldier Cpl. Hayden Harris, 20, was found buried in snow Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, during a "Santa ride" by volunteer firefighters, pictured at right, in Byram Township, N.J. A fellow soldier and a 16-year-old boy have been charged in Harris’ fatal shooting.