Fort Hood unveils gate and plaque honoring Vanessa Guillén

Cynthia Silva
·3 min read

Fort Hood, Texas, is memorializing slain soldier Vanessa Guillén with a gate named in her honor, days before the anniversary of her being reported missing last year.

Guillén's family unveiled the gate Monday afternoon, the beginning of a week of events honoring Guillén, an Army specialist who was killed last year. The event, which was closed to the public, was livestreamed on the family's Facebook page. Her family then held a news conference.

The gate, with the plaque installed on the gate marker, leads to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, "where [Guillén] lived day-to-day, where she served her country honorably," Lt. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said at the ceremony.

"So in coordination with the family, who agreed to allow us to do this, we are going to dedicate a gate that has her name on it — that has her picture — and you can come learn just a little about Vanessa. But mostly it's so [in] two, three, four years we haven't forgotten what this is all about, what this moment is all about in our history," he said.

Guillén's younger sister, Lupe Guillén, said at the family's news conference that her mother decided not to attend because the anniversary of Guillén's death was approaching. She pointed to the sidewalk where her family and supporters would hold posters fighting to find her sister, saying being at the gate brought mixed emotions.

"They should have cared when she was alive — not until now," she said, holding back tears.

She said the positive side of the gate is that it reminds people about what happened a year ago and encourages victims of sexual violence not to stay in silence but to report it, which she said her sister could not do.

Guillén was last seen April 22 last year at Fort Hood, in Killeen. Across the country, her family, public officials and celebrities joined in calling for #JusticeForVanessaGuillen. Her remains were found in June. In early July, as police moved in to arrest Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, in connection with her disappearance, he shot and killed himself, authorities said.

Shortly afterward, a woman identified as Robinson’s girlfriend was arrested on federal charges of tampering with evidence, accused of helping Robinson dispose of Guillén's body. She has pleaded not guilty, and her attorney filed a motion last month to suppress her statements. A hearing is set for April 27.

When he visited the base in August, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who said Fort Hood had one of the highest crime rates in the Army, said Guillén’s death was a turning point in how the Army handles sexual assaults and harassment.

In December, McCarthy said 14 leaders at the base were fired or suspended based on an independent review that found that there was a "permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment." Among those disciplined was Maj. Gen. Scott L. Efflandt, the acting Fort Hood commander at the time of Guillén’s death.

Army Spec. Vanessa Guillen. (U.S. Army)
Army Spec. Vanessa Guillen. (U.S. Army)

Lupe Guillén said at the family's news conference that the actions against the 14 leaders were not justice.

"We must investigate the chain of command and her leadership, because it's impossible no one knew anything about the sexual harassment happening to her," she said.

Texas lawmakers will discuss legislation filed in Guillén's honor at a news conference Tuesday. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., plans to reintroduce the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act the week of May 10 on Capitol Hill, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will speak in support.

Guillén's family and supporters have also created #IAmVanessaGuillen Week with in-person and virtual events. On Thursday, the anniversary of the night she disappeared, cities across the country will hold vigils.

CORRECTION: (April 20, 2021, 4:45 p.m. ET): An earlier version of the story misstated the timing of the reintroduction of the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act. It’s being reintroduced the week of May 10, not this week.

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