Vanessa Guillen’s family has rallied for justice for her, sparking a global outcry after her murder, a Congressional investigation into leadership at Fort Hood, a social media movement and a proposed bill bearing her name.
Guillen disappeared April 22, 2020, after talking with Specialist Aaron Robinson during inventory checks. She was a private first class, soon to achieve the rank of specialist. Robinson would later become a suspect in her murder after her remains were found, burned and dismembered. Guillen told her family members she had been sexually harassed at the U.S. Army base in Texas and was scared to report it for fear of retaliation. Now, proposed legislation named “I Am Vanessa Guillen” demands allegations of military sexual assault and harassment be reported to and investigated by a third party.
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:
1. Guillen’s Family Has Led the Fight for Justice, Sparking Rallies Across the Country & a Bill in Her Name
Guillen’s family and their fight for justice spurred public outcry following her murder, the alleged sexual harassment that prefaced her death and the response of military leadership. Their battle has sparked a #MeToo movement within the military, a Congressional investigation, and proposed legislation to change the way the military handles reports of sexual assault and harassment.
The social media movement, #IAmVanessaGuillen, and the bill by the same name asks that military service members be allowed to report sexual assault and harassment allegations to a third party for investigation.
Guillen’s death, in part, also prompted Congress to launch an investigation into the leadership at Fort Hood and its response to sexual assault, disappearances and deaths at the Texas U.S. Army base. Twenty-eight people stationed at the base have died this year. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, who heads the Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, and Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, who heads the the Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Military Personnel, announced the investigation Tuesday, September 8, 2020, ABC 7 reported. The letter specifically referenced Guillen and others including Private Gregory Morales. His remains were found in June while investigators searched for Guillen.
Protests have also continued across the country, with one held as recently as September 7, 2020, in Austin and at the Texas State Capitol.
2. Guillen Had 5 Siblings & Played With Her Brother’s Toy Gun as a Child, With Dreams of Joining the Military
Joining the military was a dream Guillen had since she was a young girl. Growing up in a family of five children in Houston, Texas, she often played with her brother’s toy gun, Guillen’s mom, Gloria Guillen, told The New York Times. At 18, shortly after her graduation from César E. Chavez High School, she enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a a private first class assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, working to repair small arms and artillery. She was close to achieving the rank of specialist when she died, and was given the rank posthumously.
Gloria Guillen told the Times she had reservations about her daughter joining the military. Her daughter was an active and athletic 20 year old when she died. She enjoyed lifting weights, playing soccer and running on cross country teams.
She and her mom regularly went to church together. Vanessa had a gold necklace of the Virgin Mary, which she never removed. The necklace now hangs on her memorial, surrounded by angels and Virgin Mary figures, The Times reported.
3. Vanessa Guillen’s Family Met With President Donald Trump at the White House
Vanessa Guillen’s family met President Donald Trump at the White House on July 30, 2020, soon after the remains of Guillen were found. There, Guillen’s mom, Gloria Guillen, asked Trump for justice for her daughter and for help in finding the truth about the killing.
Guillen’s story, Trump told The New York Times, “hit me very hard.” He said Guillen was “a spectacular person and respected and loved by everybody, including in the military.”
At that time, the FBI and Justice Department were becoming involved in the case, in addition to Fort Hood officials.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it,” he told The Times. “Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa.”
Trump also offered to help the family pay for her funeral.
“And if I can help you out with the funeral, I’ll help — I’ll help you with that,” Trump said. “Financially, I’ll help you.”
4. Guillen’s Mom, Gloria, & Dad, Rogelio, Were Immigrants From Mexico
Guillen’s parents, Gloria and Rogelio Guillen, were immigrants from a farm town in Zacatecas, Mexico called Los Delgado, and settled in southeast Houston, according to a profile by the Houston Chronicle. Rogelio Guillen told 20/20 he felt physical pain on the day of his daughter’s disappearance, and believes that was the moment she died.
“After lunch, after 12 p.m., I felt a strong pain in my chest,” Rogelio said. “Never in my life have I felt something like that.”
“It was at that moment when they did that cruel thing,” he added.
Gloria Guillen told ABC 20/20 her daughter was a “beautiful angel who served a nation.” She said her daughter is “a soul who saved many girls from so much evil.”
5. Guillen’s 16-Year-Old Sister, Lupe, Is Determined to Be a Voice for Vanessa
Guillen grew up in a family of six children, and her family is leading the charge to find justice for her in death. Some of the fiercest advocates for Vanessa are her sisters, Mayra Guillen and Lupe Gullen. Lupe is only 16 years old.
“She always taught me to never give up,” Lupe told 20/20. “I’m trying to be strong and that’s why I’m not going to lose hope until we get justice.”
Lupe also speaks at rallies for her sister, which have been held across the country. One of the most recent protests was September 7, 2020 in Austin and at the Texas State Capitol.
“They say no soldier left behind, yet they left her behind. They left Vanessa Guillen behind,” Lupe Guillen, said at the rally, according to KHOU.