FORT DRUM, N.Y. – A fellow U.S. Army soldier shot and killed a McNairy County native over the weekend in New Jersey.

U.S. Army Cpl. Hayden “Opie” Harris, 20, of Guys, Tenn., was found dead Saturday in Byram Township, N.J. after being reported missing on Thursday.

Harris is a 2018 graduate of McNairy Central High School. He and other family attended Oakland Baptist Church in Corinth.

The soldier identified as the suspect is Jamaal Mellish, 23, who was also stationed at Fort Drum. Mellish is jailed in Upstate New York Jail awaiting an extradition hearing in New Jersey.

Formal criminal charges are expected to be released soon, including murder and weapons charges.

A New Jersey newspaper reported Mellish allegedly took Harris when they met on Thursday for a vehicle trade. Law enforcement speculate the meeting escalated and Mellish “abducted” Harris and killed him.

Authorities believe Mellish took Harris to the New York City area and then into New Jersey.

Harris’ body was found Saturday when firefighters saw personal belongings, including a pair of shoes and blood.

There was no known connections for Harris and Mellish. Harris’ body was found 300 miles from where they were stationed in New York.

Harris joined the Army in March 2019 and arrived at Fort Drum four months later. He was an infantryman in the 89th Cavalry regiment of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

His Army honors included two Army Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

Harris was promoted to corporal after his death.

“We are devastated,” said Brigadier Gen. Brett Funck, acting commander for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division. “It was well known here that Corporal Harris was a great soldier.”

“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,” said Gen. Funck.

After his death, Harris was promoted from specialist to corporal. He is survived by his mother, father and sister.

Opie was an unsung player on the 2018 baseball team. He came into pitch in the district title game after pitching only five innings in the regular season. Harris pitched 7 & 2/3 innings and was the winning pitcher.

He also was a member of the MCHS golf team for four years.

“Opie was always in the mix on our golf team,” said MCHS coach Jim Merry. “He came in as a freshman to play in the region tournament when one of our players could not go to play. Opie finished as our second lowest scorer that day behind John Hunter Powers.”

Merry said Harris had visited him two weeks ago and he was so proud of his former golfing pupil.

“Opie had done well in the Army and was planning on going to sniper’s school,” said Merry. “It is heartbreaking to me and his former teammates to learn he is gone.”


A 1981 University of Tennessee - Martin graduate, Mark Boehler has over 40 years of journalism experience. His wife Dawn is the love of his life and they share five grown children and 10 grandchildren. His passion is his work - writing and photography.

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