Vanessa Guillen's Death Inspired A Law To Address Military Sexual Assault

i am vanessa guillen vanessa guillen in i am vanessa guillen cr courtesy of netflix © 2022
Vanessa Guillen: Her Life And Fort Hood MurderCourtesy of Netflix

*Trigger warning*: physical violence and sexual assault.

Netflix’s newest doc, I Am Vanessa Guillen, tells the story of a young woman serving in the Army who mysteriously disappeared from her base. She was later found dead, having been allegedly killed by another soldier.

Vanessa Guillen was only 20 years old at the time of her disappearance and death, and her family has fought hard to learn what happened to her—and make sure that it doesn't happen to anyone else.

The documentary details Vanessa's horrifying death and the steps her family took in the aftermath to create change. Her family initially noted that Vanessa seemed concerned soon after being stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, saying that “things aren’t always as they seem.” She started losing weight and, her mother noted that Vanessa informed her that she was being “harassed by a superior.”

Vanessa’s sister also recalled calling the staff sergeant after her sister's disappearance, only to be told that they didn’t know “anything” about Vanessa.

But who was Vanessa Guillen and what happened to her? Here’s what you need to know.

Who was Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa Guillen was a 20-year-old Army specialist who was born and raised in Houston, Texas, alongside her five siblings. She decided to enlist in the Army at age 18, according to The New York Times. The outlet also reported that she was an athlete in school, playing soccer and running track as well as cross country.

At the time of her death, Vanessa was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. She told her family that she was being sexually harassed by a superior before her disappearance in April of 2020, per the documentary. She was later found dead.

Vanessa's family relentlessly asked for answers and even met with then-President Donald Trump in their pursuit of uncovering the truth of what happened to Vanessa. This September, she would have turned 23.

What happened to Vanessa Guillen?

Vanessa mysteriously disappeared on April 22, 2020, according to The New York Times. On July 2, a charge was brought against another soldier at Fort Hood, Aaron Robinson, who killed himself with a pistol a few days before the charge was announced, per The Times. Robinson was also the last person Vanessa texted before her April 22 disappearance.

Robinson's girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was arrested and indicted by a grand jury under charges related to tampering with documents and Vanessa's body at the district court in Waco, Texas. Aguilar pleaded not guilty on all counts, and her trial begins on Jan. 3, 2023, per KHOU11.

Court documents say that Robinson told Aguilar he repeatedly "bludgeoned" Vanessa in the head with a hammer at Fort Hood, and that she died from the wounds. The documents say he then hid her body in a large box, which he and Aguilar later tried to dismember and burn.

In the complaint, a witness told investigators that Vanessa left an arms room she had been working in and went to a different arms room where Robinson was working to "confirm serial numbers for weapons and equipment." Two witnesses then said that on the same day she disappeared, they saw Robinson pulling a large “tough box” that “appeared very heavy in weight,” per The Times.

The new documentary explains how people came together to protest the lack of answers and action on the part of the Army after Vanessa’s disappearance. Her murder also led to calls for change in how the military handles reports of sexual harassment and assault.

More than a dozen officials were disciplined in the wake of Vanessa’s disappearance, per the Times.

Why did Robinson allegedly kill Vanessa?

While there's no official word on why he may have killed Vanessa, a new report from the Texas Department of Public Safety report suggests that, based on interviews with Aguilar, Guillen had seen a photo of Robinson and Aguilar together on Robinson's phone screen saver, and he was "worried about getting in trouble for violating the Army’s fraternization rules," per local outlet KWTX.

Aguilar was married to another soldier. And she added that Robinson hit Guillen in the head with a hammer.

Where was she found?

Vanessa’s bones, hair, and other remains were found at the end of June, according to The Times.

Court documents said that Robinson told Aguilar that he took Vanessa’s body off of Fort Hood to a “remote site” in Bell County, Texas. They buried her body near the Leon River, according to the Times.

What does “bludgeon” mean?

The term is used to describe what happened to Vanessa, and a lot of people have questions about what that actually means. A "bludgeoning" is a situation in which someone is attacked with something that usually has a thick or loaded end and is used like a weapon, according to Merriam-Webster. It can also mean to hit with heavy impact.

Who is Natalie Khawam?

Natalie is the family's attorney, and she's been working with them to file a $35 million wrongful death claim against the Army, per the Texas Tribune.

She told the Tribune that her legal team had talked with several of Vanessa's friends and family, all of whom confirmed that Vanessa had been sexually assaulted.

Natalie also played a role in helping the family push for the 'I Am Vanessa Guillen Act,' parts of which went into effect in early 2022.

What is the 'I Am Vanessa Guillen' Act?

Vanessa’s disappearance and death quickly inspired a call to action and legislation titled the "I Am Vanessa Guillen Act," which tried to address “the response of the Department of Defense to sex-related offenses committed against members of the Armed Forces, including allowing a member to confidentially allege a complaint of sexual harassment to an individual outside the immediate chain of command of that member,” per the act.

Basically, the legislation sought to revamp the way sexual assault allegations are handled within the military, making it easier for victims to speak up without fear of retaliation.

Parts of the 'I Am Vanessa Guillen' law passed this year.

Provisions from the new legislation took effect on January 1, 2022, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Joe Biden, the Texas Tribune reported.

Under the new federal law, commanders cannot be involved in military sexual harassment or sexual assault investigations, the Tribune explains.

"I don't want to hear another woman or man was found dead at Fort Hood. I don't want to hear another woman or man was sexually assaulted, abused or raped," Vanessa's sister Lupe Guillen said, per ABC13.

Is Fort Hood still open?

Yes, the military base is still in operation. You can check out its website here.

Where is Vanessa buried?

She is buried at Forest Park Lawndale Funeral Home in southeast Houston, Texas, according to ABC 13. She was laid to rest in a private funeral in August of 2021, following a massive public service at her Houston high school the day before.

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