Slain soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillén’s fiancé, Juan Cruz, appeared on ABC’s 20/20 on Friday, June 11 in his first TV appearance to discuss their relationship and the aftermath of her death. The interview comes in the wake of the announcement that 21 soldiers were either suspended or fired as a result of the military investigation into Vanessa’s murder allegedly at the hands of fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, who took his own life as police attempted to arrest him. The U.S. Army investigation at Fort Hood, Texas, also concluded that Vanessa had experience ongoing sexual harassment by a superior within her chain of command.
“They failed us since the beginning,” Cruz said during the televised interview, which was a part of the network’s, 20/20 ‘What Happened to Vanessa?’/’¿Qué le pasó a Vanessa?’ primetime special. “How can something like that happen on military base? They’re taking care of us, protecting us. Who’s taking care of them?,” Cruz, who proposed to Vanessa in March 2020, the month before she was brutally killed.
Guillén grew up in Houston and is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico who, according to loved ones, was a fitness fanatic. “When Houston went on lockdown [for COVID-19], she was really frustrated because the gyms were closed. She would be like, ‘Let me carry you so I can do squats,’” Cruz said, sharing he saw her the day before she went missing.
The interview comes more than a year after Vanessa’s murder, which is believed to have occurred on April 22, 2020, more than a month before her remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas, on June 30, 2020. The two-hour TV special also featured interviews with soldiers from Vanessa’s unit, Betavious “Tay” Hightower and Ryan “Cj” Landy, who were aware of the harassment Vanessa was experiencing prior to her death.
The two soldiers say they called Robinson to question him about Vanessa’s disappearance when they realized she was missing and that he had been the last person to see her alive. Hightower said he called Robinson who was “acting like he just woke up” and said he never talked to her.
20/20 also spoke with the Army’s Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army Forces Command. Maj. Gen. Gene LeBoeuf, who explained that the investigation was botched early on because they received “bad information,” including errors in eyewitness reports. He also said, “Specialist Robinson was a person of interest early on in the investigation…He was questioned very early on in this process.”
ABC reported that it was because of the pandemic that there were less soldiers out so tracking Guillén’s movements the day she went missing proved more difficult. However, they report that once her remains were found and Robinson was kept for questioning he didn’t deny anything. His girlfriend Cecily Aguilar claimed he killed Guillén and they then disposed of her body in three different spots and covered them with concrete. Robinson escaped the room where he was being held and two hours later, with police converging on him, he shot himself.
Though there are still more questions than answers, her legacy lives on through her family and a proposed bill named after her. Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-CA) introduced the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” in September 2020, with the aim of inciting major changes in how the Department of Defense handles reports of sexual harassment and assault. It would explicitly list sexual harassment as a crime in military law, require the secretary of defense to establish a process for servicemembers to lodge a complaint confidentially and move the decision of whether to prosecute a sexual offense to an special prosecutor outside the chain of command.
“It’s one of the biggest military reforms in history,” Vanessa Guillen’s other sister, Lupe Guillen, told ABC. “It’s so important because it will bring the help my sister never obtained, it will bring the voice my sister never had.”