The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.
More than two months after Pfc. Vanessa Guillen was reported missing, Army officials have confirmed that part of her remains were found. The military said Guillen was believed to have been killed by a fellow soldier who shot himself when confronted by police.
“I lack the words to make sense of this tragic loss,” Fort Hood senior commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt said at a press conference on July 6. Efflandt confirmed that the Army Criminal Investigation Command identified the remains discovered on June 30 near the Leon River as belonging to the 20-year-old missing soldier. Guillen’s family was told on July 5.
Guillen disappeared from Fort Hood on April 22. Before she went missing, the private first class told her family, friends and fellow soldiers that she was sexually harassed on Fort Hood. Her sister, Lupe Guillen, said at a press conference on July 1 that the Army did not keep Guillen safe and the military allowed her to be sexually harassed.
Efflandt described Guillen as a “vibrant, young woman” who had a bright future ahead of her. He said the Army will continue to help the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas in prosecuting those responsible for her death and confirmed the military will complete the investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.
“Please know that every person who raises their right hand and chooses to serve their family and country in uniform deserves to be safe, and to be treated with dignity and respect,” Efflandt said. “To the victims of sexual harassment and assault: We hear you, we believe you and I encourage you to come forward.”
Guillen’s regimental commander, Col. Ralph Overland also spoke at the press conference on July 6. Overland, who was put in charge of the investigation into Guillen’s sexual harassment claims, said the soldiers who served with Guillen were grieving along with her family and friends.
“Our loss of Vanessa Guillen has devastated us all and left a hole in our formation. Her fellow troopers in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and units across Fort Hood remained concerned and committed to recovering Vanessa since the day she disappeared,” Overland said. “Thousands have searched, dedicated to finding our Soldier because we never quit and we never leave a fallen comrade.”
Overland said soldiers in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment described Guillen as caring, an expert in her craft and a soldier who went above and beyond. “We will never forget her,” Overland said. “We keep her in our hearts.”
Court Documents Detail Vanessa’s Murder
Court documents released on July 2 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas detailed how Guillen was killed and dismembered by a fellow soldier stationed at Fort Hood. A criminal complaint charged that a civilian helped the soldier hide Guillen’s body after he bludgeoned the 20-year-old to death with a hammer at Fort Hood, according to NBC DFW.
The Army identified the soldier suspected of killing Guillen as Aaron David Robinson. He reportedly hit Guillen repeatedly with a hammer on April 22 on Fort Hood. Two witnesses told investigators they saw Robinson pulling a large “tough box” with wheels out of the arms room where he worked. Robinson allegedly loaded the box into his vehicle and drove away.
The complaint stated that Robinson enlisted his civilian girlfriend, 22-year-old Cecily Ann Aguilar, to help him mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body. The two allegedly dismembered the body and attempted to burn it, the complaint said. When the body failed to burn completely, they placed the remains in three different holes and covered them, KCEN-TV reported.
Aguilar was arrested on July 1 and charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. She was being held in the Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas, but was transferred to McLennan County on July 4.
On July 6, she appeared before a federal judge in Waco, Texas, and was read her charges. When asked if she understood the affidavit, Aguilar answered, “Yeah, sure,” according to KCEN-TV. She is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on July 14, during which her bond will be set and a decision will be made about whether the case will head to a federal grand jury.
If convicted, Aguilar faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and $100 fine towards the victim fund. She may also be sentenced to five years of supervised release.
Congress Pushes for Independent Investigation of Fort Hood
Close to 100 members of Congress are pushing for the Department of Defense to independently investigate how Fort Hood handled Guillen’s case. On July 6, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) sent a letter to Department of Defense Inspector General Sean O’Donnell demanding an investigation.
“There are still many questions left unanswered surrounding her disappearance and about how Fort Hood conducted its investigations. Congress must act to guarantee this never happens again to another soldier,” Garcia said. She said she was leading 87 members of Congress in supporting Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) request for a “full, independent investigation.”
“Before her disappearance and murder, SPC Guillen confided in her family that she felt unsafe in Fort Hood due to experiences with sexual harassment, which she did not report out of fear for her personal safety,” the letter said. “The U.S. military has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the young women and men that take an oath to defend our country. In SPC Guillen’s case, she was tragically failed by the Army.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.