Guillen went missing April 22, 2020, from the Texas U.S. Army base. A fellow soldier, Aaron Robinson, was identified as a suspect in her murder. Before he was arrested, he took his own life as police were closing in on him, officials said. His girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was charged with conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence for allegedly helping Robinson dismember the body.
Her case is being examined on ABC 20/20 in a two-hour special, “I Am Vanessa,” which airs at 9/8 C Friday, September 11, 2020.
Here’s what you need to know:
Aaron Robinson Died by Suicide Shortly After Guillen’s Remains Were Discovered, Officials Said
Our entire Chavez Community is heartbroken with today’s news. We extend our deepest condolences and offer our thoughts and prayers to the Guillen family. May they be protected in these most difficult times. pic.twitter.com/LJYc8maCx0
— César E. Chavez High School (@ChavezHS_HISD) July 2, 2020
Guillen’s family identified the 20-year-old Army specialist by recovered bones, hair and other remains that were found in a shallow grave June 30, 2020, along the Leon River in Bell County, Texas. Officials allege Robinson and Aguilar attempted to burn and dismember Guillen’s body. The family waited for a priest and Army chaplain to formally notify her mother, Gloria Guillén, according to The Washington Post.
“She did feel Vanessa was no longer with us,” Guillen’s sister, Mayra Guillén, told The Post by phone. “She had a hard time accepting there isn’t a whole body.”
Authorities say Robinson killed Guillen with a hammer, and later called Aguilar to confess, according to USA Today.
Guillen’s family attorney, Natalie Khawam told the Army Times Robinson contacted his girfriend “to help him bury her bloody body.”
“At first they tried to set her on fire, but she wouldn’t burn. Then they dismembered this beautiful U.S. soldier’s body with a machete,” she added.
Robinson was under the watch of an unarmed escort before his arrest, according to 20/20, around the time the remains were found. He was not detained or in police custody. Robinson fled his post as information surfaced that remains were found near the Leon River, officials said during a July 2, 2020 press conference. Police were in pursuit of Robinson and closing in on him when he pulled a gun and fatally shot himself, they said.
Guillen’s Family Held a Public Memorial for the Army Specialist Followed by a Private Funeral
Guillen was laid to rest at Forest Park Lawndale Funeral Home in southeast Houston, following a public memorial service August 15, 2020, and a private funeral service, ABC 13 reported. The search for Guillen lasted more than two months before some of her remains were found in a shallow grave.
At the funeral service, American flags lined the street outside Holy Name Catholic Church, according to ABC 13. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo and Houston Fire Department Chief Samuel Peña attended the service to remember the slain soldier.
“Even though she has tragically died young, her legacy will be long lasting,” Turner told the news outlet. “Bringing a great deal of change within the military and she’s Houston’s own. That’s what makes us so very proud.”
Her family and friends prayed over her casket and released doves. The casket had also been carried into her high school’s auditorium during the public memorial. A custom-made casket was designed to reflect Guillen’s faith and heritage, combining the Mexican and American flags, and the Virgin Mary, according to ABC 13.
Gloria Guillen told ABC 20/20 her daughter was a “beautiful angel who served a nation.” She added that her daughter is “a soul who saved many girls from so much evil.”
“We lost a life,” Khawan said during a press conference. “We lost a beautiful, young soldier and it’s time we fix our system. Women should not be afraid to come forth about sexual harassment.”