Army specialist Vanessa Guillén was 20 years old when her body was found on June 30 of last year near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Her death sparked national discussions on sexual harassment and misconduct in the military following the revelation that she had told her family she’d experienced harassment at the base. Now she’s being commemorated with a gate and memorial plaque at Fort Hood ahead of the one-year anniversary of her disappearance on April 22. Guillén’s younger sister, Lupe Guillén noted that her mother did not attend the unveiling because of the approaching anniversary.
“They should have cared when she was alive — not until now,” she said in an emotional moment during a press conference after the ceremony.
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, Military.com reported.
“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.
“To the Guillén Family, this dedication makes it clear; we will never forget Vanessa and the impact she had on all of us. Her legacy will live on through this gate and through the ‘People First’ initiative; to ensure our soldiers, families, and thank department of the Army Civilians are always at the center of what we do.”
Guillén was last seen available April 22, 2020, between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the parking lot of her 3rd Cavalry Regiment Engineer Squadron Headquarters. Authorities said the keys to her car and her barracks as well as her wallet were later found in the armory room where she had worked that day. Her body was eventually discovered on June 30 by contractors working on a fence along the Leon River about 20 miles from Fort Hood.
Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, died by suicide after police attempted to arrest him in July. Cecily Aguilar, 22, was dating Robinson and she’s been charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Texas. She confessed that Robinson beat Guillén to death using a hammer and they later dismembered her body and set it on fire before burying it in three separate places, according to the affidavit. She has pleaded not guilty but remains in jail.
In December, 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.” The Independent Review Committee surveyed 31,612 soldiers, interviewing 647, and met with civic and elected leaders, local law enforcement leaders, and the local district attorneys, according to McCarthy. The conclusion of the investigation resulted in nine findings and 70 recommendations, subsequently presented to Army leadership on November 9. In October Fort Hood announced that after an investigation they concluded that Guillén’s death was ‘in the line of duty.’
Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-Calif.), plans to reintroduce the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act the week of May 10 on Capitol Hill, NBC reported. The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act is a bipartisan bill aimed at creating a more confidential reporting system. It would also make sexual harassment within the military a punishable crime and permit sexual harassment or assault survivors to file claims within the Department of Defense for compensation.
Lupe Guillén said at the family’s news conference that the actions against the 14 leaders do not represent justice with there being work that still needs to be done. “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.”