Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Private First Class (PFC) soldier for the United States Army, disappeared on April 22 at Texas’s Fort Hood Army base. She was later found dead.
Guillen’s family believes officials at Fort Hood are covering up what happened to her.
A suspect in Guillen’s disappearance died by suicide after being confronted by authorities.
Two months ago, Vanessa Guillen—a 20-year-old woman serving as a PFC soldier on Fort Hood’s United States Army base—disappeared on April 22. She was last seen in the parking lot of her squadron’s headquarters around 12 p.m. that day. Although her car keys, barracks identification card, and wallet were located on-site in an armory room where she was repairing artillery, she and her phone were nowhere to be found. She was later found dead.
The Guillen family suspects foul play in Vanessa’s case because she previously told them she was being sexually harassed and feared retaliation. As a result, the Guillens hired an attorney to look into what happened, and they now suspect foul play from Fort Hood itself. “The facts aren’t good. I don’t like them,” Natalie Khawam, the Guillens’ family attorney, told Inside Edition. “There were a few incidents where she [Vanessa] had told her colleagues, her friends, her family about being sexually harassed but she was afraid to report it. How does someone disappear on a base that has more protection and safeguards than anyone else on the planet?”
Fort Hood’s Deputy Commander Major General Scott Efflandt waited until June 22—two full calendar months after Vanessa’s disappearance—before making a statement about her case for the first time. “We want to bring Vanessa home as efficiently and as rapidly as possible. And toward that end, I’m asking for your assistance,” he said in a Twitter video. “We need to bring Vanessa back to her Army family and to bring her back to her family, and we won’t stop this effort until we’re successful.”
On June 30, one week after Fort Hood’s Deputy Commander issued a formal statement, human remains were found in a rural area near the Leon River in nearby Bell County. The river is 30 miles (about an hour drive) from the Fort Hood base. Tim Miller, founder of Texas EquuSearch—a nonprofit search and rescue org dedicated to finding missing people—told ABC13 he believes the remains belong to Vanessa Guillen and describes the area the remains were found in as a “shallow grave.” The Guillens also believe that the remains are Vanessa’s.
“It’s believed to be her…pending positive identification, which that will have to be determined by the medical examiner’s office, but I’m confident to say the search for Vanessa is now over,” said Miller. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, however, told ABC13 they did not confirm the remains are Vanessa’s and the identification process will take time.
Hours after the remains were uncovered, authorities confronted a then-unidentified Fort Hood soldier who was a suspect in Vanessa’s case. But “as officers attempted to make contact with the suspect,” the local authorities said in a statement, “the suspect produced a weapon and committed suicide by shooting himself.” According to NPR, the Army is also investigating a civilian suspect who is the “estranged wife of a former Fort Hood Soldier” because she might have something to do with Vanessa’s disappearance.
After getting the runaround from Army officials working on Vanessa’s case, the Guillens demanded a congressional investigation because of how the investigation has been handled.
But on July 2, one day after the Guillens requested congressional involvement in Vanessa’s case, more details about her disappearance came out. Army officials at Fort Hood identified the two suspects who were involved—Spc. Aaron David Robinson of Illinois (the soldier who died by suicide after being confronted by authorities) and Cecily Ann Aguilar (the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier).
The criminal complaints state Robinson reportedly told Aguilar that he killed Vanessa in the armory room and enlisted Aguilar to help him cover it up. The Guillen family’s attorney made further claims about what happened to Vanessa. “At first, they tried to set her on fire, but she wouldn’t burn,” she told Army Times. “Then they dismembered this beautiful U.S. soldier’s body with a machete. She needs to be brought to justice.”
After human remains were uncovered at the river, Robinson fled the Army base overnight and was later confronted by authorities as a suspect. Robinson shot himself in the head.
Aguilar has been charged with “tampering or fabricating physical evidence with the intent to impair a human corpse,” which is a second-degree felony. If Aguilar is found guilty, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. There’s a rumor going around online that Aguilar has been let out on bail, but that has yet to be confirmed or denied.
On July 6, authorities confirmed that the remains found at the river were Vanessa Guillen’s. And while this sadly brings part of this case to a close, the Guillens’ attorney is still convinced that there are “cover-ups” taking place at Fort Hood.
“I think some of the questions we all have is, what happened? And how did this happen? And what kind of securities are we willing to do for all of our soldiers, especially the ones in Fort Hood that are really afraid of the fact that there are no security cameras there at that base available for them,” attorney Natalie Khawam told America’s Newsroom on July 16.
“And there are all these cover-ups that are occurring here,” she continued. “No one is giving anyone true answers, correct answers, accurate answers.”
This isn’t to say that Natalie Khawan and the Guillen family have lost hope for uncovering the truth. “I absolutely do think [we’ll get answers],” she added. “Our president loves our troops, he loves our military, and he loves our veterans, and I believe that we are going to work together and we’re going to find an answer here to help everybody. Not just to give Vanessa Guillen’s family some answers and some hope but all of the U.S. some answers and some hope.”
Following the confirmation of Vanessa’s remains, the U.S. Army announced on July 30 that a five-personal civilian panel will be reviewing the culture at the Fort Hood Army Base.
“The Army is committed to taking care of our Soldiers, civilians, families, and Soldiers for life, and this independent review will explore the current command climate and culture at Fort Hood,” Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said in a statement to NPR.
According to the U.S. Army, the purpose of the review panel is to “determine whether the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, and the surrounding military community, reflects the Army’s values, including safety, respect, inclusiveness, and a commitment to diversity, and workplaces and communities free from sexual harassment.”
In addition to further investigating the culture, the panel “will review historical data and conduct interviews with military members, civilians, and members of the local community”—that way, a case like Vanessa’s could be prevented in the future.
If you wish to help with Vanessa’s case, continue saying her name. If you have a platform, use it to bring additional attention to Vanessa’s story by reposting the resources her family has put up on their official Instagram page, @FindVanessaGuillen. The Guillens also have a GoFundMe page that is open for donations.
Additionally, there are petitions calling for the U.S. Army to be held accountable in how it handled Vanessa’s disappearance and the way it reviews complaints of sexual harassment altogether. This petition has more than 220,000 signatures. This petition takes it a step further and calls for the Fort Hood base to close down altogether for not taking the case seriously enough until Vanessa’s mother turned to the media for help.
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