On April 22, Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old woman from Houston, disappeared from the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas. She was last seen "in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, 3rd Cavalry Regiment on Fort Hood," according to a press release from the military base, wearing a "black T-shirt and purple fitness-type pants."
Her belongings—car keys, barracks room key, wallet, and ID card—were all left in the armory room where she was working earlier that day. The last text on her phone was to U.S. Army Specialist Aaron Robinson, 20, who died by suicide after he was identified as a suspect in the case.
Two months later, Guillen's remains were discovered and identified. But her family is still desperate for answers. Here's everything you need to know about the ongoing case.
Vanessa Guillen was reported missing on April 23.
The next day, April 24, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command released a statement asking for help finding her.
On June 30, the Army Criminal Investigation Division Command (CID) confirmed that human remains had been found in an area near the Leon River, where a search had been conducted for Guillen on June 22. The Army CID issued the following statement, per ABC13:
"Due to extensive investigative work conducted by Special Agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, agents have returned to an area of interest close to the Leon River, Bell County, Texas for more investigative work in the search for PFC Vanessa Guillen. After receiving additional information, agents have discovered what has been described as partial human remains after analysis from a forensic anthropologist. Army CID agents are currently on scene with the Texas Rangers, the FBI and Bell County Sheriff's Department. No confirmation as to the identity of the remains has been made at this point and we ask for the media and public's understanding that the identification process can take time. Due to the ongoing criminal investigation, no further information will be released at this time."
Tim Miller, the founder of Texas EquuSearch, a search and rescue group that searches for missing persons, told ABC: "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."
Over Fourth of July weekend, the remains were confirmed to be Guillen's, according to The New York Times.
The main suspect in Guillen's death was Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who died by suicide.
Robinson worked in the building adjacent to where Guillen worked at Fort Hood. He was named in a federal complaint, according to The New York Times. But just a few days before the charge was announced, Robinson killed himself with a pistol.
"While law enforcement agencies attempted to make contact with the suspect in Killeen, Texas, Specialist Robinson displayed a weapon and took his own life," CID Senior Special Agent Damon Phelps said at a news conference, according CNN.
Authorities have arrested Spc. Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar.
In a press release from the Department of Justice, authorities revealed that a criminal complaint was filed against 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, who was charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence in connection with the disappearance of Guillen. Most notably, the press release revealed that Robinson allegedly told Aguilar that he killed "a female soldier":
According to the complaint, 20-year-old U.S. Army Specialist Aaron Robinson told Aguilar that he killed a female soldier by striking her in the head with a hammer while on Ft. Hood on April 22, 2020. Robinson further admitted to Aguilar that he transferred the woman’s body off of Ft. Hood to a remote site in Bell County. Subsequently, Robinson enlisted the help of Aguilar in disposing of the dead female’s body. The complaint further alleges that at a later time Aguilar recognized the deceased, whom she helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of, as Vanessa Guillen. The remains found in Bell County have yet to be formally identified by authorities.
“She clearly and unequivocally denies the accusations made against her by the government,” Lewis Gainor, a federal public defender who represents Aguilar, told The Statesman. “It is supported by probable cause, which is the bare minimum for a case to go forward. At this point, she is presumed to be innocent. She has a right to a trial.”
Her family believes she was sexually assaulted.
Guillen's family lawyer Natalie Khawam accused Spc. Robinson of sexually harassing her, calling sexual harassment in the military an "epidemic."
“My sister Vanessa Guillen was sexually harassed yet nothing was done,” her sister Lupe Guillen said at a news conference earlier this month. “She deserves respect. She deserves to be heard because if this can happen to my sister, it can happen to anyone else.”
According to the website the Guillens set up, before she went missing, Guillen told her family that she was being sexually harassed by one of her sergeants at Ford Hood. Here is what they wrote, from Guillen's point-of-view:
"My mom told me that she would report it for me, but I told her that I knew of other female soldiers that had reported sexual harassment and that the US Army didn’t believe them. I told my mom how the same sergeant that sexually harassed me would follow me whenever I would run and exercise and how uncomfortable it made me feel."
Fort Hood Senior Commander Major General Scott Efflandt said at a press conference that a criminal investigation had not found "any connection" between the sexual harassment allegations and Guillen's disappearance.
*If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault, the RAINN hotline is available at 800.656.HOPE (4673).
A post shared by SPC SOLDIER VANESSA GUILLEN (@findvanessaguillen) on Jul 14, 2020 at 11:34am PDT
Celebrities, lawmakers, activists, and public figures spoken out about Guillen's case
On Twitter, the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen has prompted hundreds of people to tell their own stories of sexual assault in the Armed Forces, including Panayiota Bertzikis, a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard veteran and founder of the Military Rape Crisis Center, who tweeted about her alleged rape.
In 2006 I was brutally raped by a member of the United States Coast Guard. I was locked up in a closet for reporting the rape. I was blamed, shamed, and eventually lost my career.
Help find #VanessaGuillen and prosecute all involved in this cover-up. pic.twitter.com/IGp9FulRGC
— Panayiota Bertzikis (@panayiotab) June 25, 2020
An Instagram account called @findvanessaguillen provides updates on her case and encourages using thehashtags #FindVanessaGuillen, #IAmVanessaGuillen, and #WeAreVanessaGuillen to get out the word.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) July 3, 2020
A post shared by Salma Hayek Pinault (@salmahayek) on Jun 11, 2020 at 8:12am PDT
Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia and 87 other members of Congress, signed a letter supporting the need for an independent investigation by the Department of Defense into how military officials conducted their search for Guillen.
Today, 87 of my colleagues joined me in expressing support for @RepSpeier and @SenGillibrand’s request for the @DeptofDefense Acting Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into Fort Hood’s handling of SPC Vanessa Guillen’s case.#JusticeForVanessaGuillen pic.twitter.com/5mZJa4A2iF
— Rep. Sylvia Garcia (@RepSylviaGarcia) July 6, 2020
"We are hopeful that a full and independent investigation by the DoD Inspector General's Office will begin to provide the Guillen family with the answers and justice they seek," Rep. Garcia wrote in the letter.
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