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Private First Class Vanessa Guillén, who’d dreamed of serving her country since she was a girl, reported to work at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas on April 22, 2020. The same day she disappeared, and her family feared the worst.
Guillén had confided that she was being sexually harassed by a sergeant, a situation with the potential to go from bad to worse.
On June 30, Guillén’s mutilated and burned remains were found near the Leon River, about 30 miles from Fort Hood.
Her sister Mayra Guillén recalled getting the terrible news. “I instantly just lost it. I just started screaming and crying,” she told Oxygen’s “Injustice with Nancy Grace,” airing Thursday at 9/8c on Oxygen. “I just couldn’t accept it.”
Seven months after the murder and revelation that Guillén was allegedly killed by soldier Aaron Robinson, 20, and that his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, allegedly helped dispose of the evidence, Nancy Grace can’t accept it, either.
“What is going on at Fort Hood?” the legal commentator and Oxygen contributor asked in her deep dive into the ongoing Guillén case. It’s the same emphatic query Grace asked at CrimeCon: “House Arrest” on November 21.
Considering Fort Hood’s alleged history of sexual harassment, prostitution rings, murders, and suicides, the question merits repeating.
More troops have died by homicide at home than have died in combat zones, “Injustice with Nancy Grace” points out. There have been 159 non-combat deaths, including seven homicides and 71 suicides.
While Fort Hood’s handling of sexual harassment complaints had largely gone unnoticed by the public for years, the Guillén family shone a bright spotlight on the military base and sparked a national conversation.
April 22, 2020 was supposed to be a day off for Vanessa Guillén, but she was unexpectedly called in. The same day she vanished from her post. In the armory where she worked, she was nowhere to be seen. However, her personal belongings as well as her military identification were found.
The discovery of Guillén’s Army ID — something soldiers must present on a regular basis while on the base — “was a huge red flag,” retired USAF Col. Don Christensen told “Injustice with Nancy Grace.”
He added that the Army’s failure to start working on this case “immediately is unforgivable.”
When Guillén’s family arrived at the base on the night of April 22 to ask about her whereabouts, they were turned away. Fort Hood officials didn’t appear to be searching, they claimed.
Asked by Grace about military protocols when soldiers go missing, former Army Captain Allison Jaslow, an advocate for veterans and their families, said, “It is extremely troubling to me that a sense of urgency didn’t appear to be there by either her immediate commander or the base commanders.”
That sends “a horrible message to everyone else who’s serving,” Jaslow added.
Considering Guillén’s reports of sexual harassment, “alarm bells should have gone off,” said Christensen, adding that there could have been a correlation between those claims and her disappearance.
But Guillén told only her family about the harassment and didn’t name names. Instead she kept the details relatively vague, presumably over concerns about the way these allegations are investigated and what the aftermath can be.
“There are a lot of women who have experienced retribution” after officially reporting sexual harassment, Jaslow said. “There’s a long list of reasons as to why she would have kept that to herself or only confined to the family.”
On May 18, witnesses told CID that on the day Guillén went missing, U.S. Army Specialist Robinson left work with a “tough box” that appeared to be heavy. Robinson loaded the box into his vehicle and drove away.
Equusearch managed to obtain a copy of Robinson’s phone records. The documents showed that on the day Guillén vanished, Robinson’s phone pinged near the Leon River in the early morning hours following the disappearance.
Aguilar’s alibi — that the two had been stargazing — was eventually revealed to be a lie.
On June 19, a search in the Leon Rivers area turned up human remains that were not Guillén’s, but those of Private Gregory Wedel-Morales, 24, who was stationed at Fort Hood. He went missing 10 months earlier, just two days before he was to be discharged.
Like the Guillén family, Wedel-Morales’ mother alleged Fort Hood didn’t appear “to care at all” about her son’s disappearance.
They listed Wedel-Morales as AWOL and then as a deserter. “It seems like an easy way out for them to write him off,” Kim Wedel told producers.
Wedel-Morales was eventually reinstated to active duty, entitling him to burial with full military honors. His case has been declared a homicide. The Killeen Police Department has opened an investigation and currently have no suspects, according to “Injustice with Nancy Grace.”
On June 30, as the search of the Leon River area continued, EquuSearch founder Tim Miller discovered a burn pile and part of a plastic box. He informed CID and later, Guillén’s remains were found in the vicinity. She had been bludgeoned, decapitated, dismembered, burned, and buried.
The discovery compelled CID to turn up the heat on Robinson and Aguilar. She allegedly told authorities that Robinson admitted to her that he’d repeatedly hit Guillén with a hammer. Aguilar then allegedly helped Robison mutilate and dispose of the body.
Learning that Guillén’s remains had been found, Robinson fled the base. As authorities attempted to arrest him, Robinson committed suicide.
Charged with conspiracy to hide and destroy evidence, Aguilar is still in custody. She has pleaded not guilty. Her trial is scheduled for November 30, 2020.
Following efforts by the Guilléns that have put Fort Hood in the spotlight, Major General Scott Efflandt was removed from command on September 1, 2020, NBC News reported at the time.
During the search for her sister, Mayra Guillén launched the social media campaign “I Am Vanessa Guillén” to draw attention to the case and to sexual harassment issues in the military. It has become a movement and a catalyst for change.
On Sept. 16, 2020, lawmakers introduced the bipartisan “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” which aims to transform the way sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations are handled within the military.
“I would love for Vanessa to be known as that warrior, that fighter,” said her younger sister Lupe Guillén, “who taught her loved ones to never give up.”
Her other sister echoed that sentiment.
“I just want Vanessa to be honored the way she deserves to be honored. We won’t stop until we get justice and get the bill passed,” Mayra Guillén told producers.
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