Ever since Private First Class Vanessa Guillén disappeared on April 22, her family and friends have endured unending turmoil. On Sunday, remains found near Fort Hood were identified as Guillén’s, and now lawmakers around Texas and the country are calling for a full investigation into the death of the 20-year-old Houston native.
In the days and weeks following Guillén’s disappearance, her family and friends accused the U.S. military command of Fort Hood of abetting an unsafe environment. Guillén had previously told family members she was being sexually harassed on the base.
The fellow officer who allegedly harassed Guillén was Specialist Aaron David Robinson. Last week he died by suicide. According to the Killeen Police Department, a second suspect Cecily Aguilar was also apprehended. She told the police that she helped Robinson transport and dispose of the body.
For Guillén’s family, especially her sister Mayra, the U.S. Army needs to answer for what happened to the PFC (who was posthumously promoted to Specialist) at Fort Hood. In May, Mayra appeared on Dateline and said that Guillén had told their mother she was being harassed by a sergeant, and was “afraid.”
“It’s just really difficult because of the Army’s jurisdiction,” said Mayra in a press conference shortly before the Dateline appearance. As news spread about Guillén’s disappearance, social media campaigns took over Twitter and Instagram. The actress Salma Hayek posted about Guillén, and Rep. Sylvia Garcia took an active role in coordinating with the family.
The hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillén became an outlet for soldiers to share their own stories about harassment and abuse. After the Guillén family demanded a congressional investigation, several lawmakers have signed on in support.
On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquin Castro affirmed in a letter that they were in support of an investigation. “Vanessa was a 20-year-old, brave Latina soldier with her whole life ahead of her. She did not deserve to die while serving her country.”
In Texas and around the country, marches and vigils were held to honor the fallen soldier. On Sunday in Austin, more than 100 people marched to demand a congressional investigation. Outside City Hall in Dallas on Tuesday, crowds held up signs demanding justice. The scene turned particularly emotional as two of Guillén’s childhood friends addressed the crowd. There have also been marches and demonstrations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer who served in the Iraq War and is currently running for Congress in Texas, believes strongly in a full congressional investigation into both Guillén’s time at Fort Hood and her murder, she said in a statement to the Texas Signal.
“It is unacceptable that SPC Guillén experienced sexual harassment while wearing our nation’s cloth, and then lacked the confidence in her chain of command’s ability and or willingness to ensure a safe and professional working environment for all soldiers,” Jones said “Sexual harassment and sexual assault threaten military readiness, and in Congress, I will lead to ensure every service member has the ability to serve to their full potential — without the fear of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier sent a letter to the Department of Defense calling for an investigation into Guillén’s disappearance. In 2013 Gillibrand filed the Military Justice Improvement Act to add oversight into sexual harassment investigations in the military. It has never come up for a vote.
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