Women Veterans and Troops are Demanding Justice for Spc. Vanessa Guillen

Vanessa Guillen
Photo credit US Army
By Connecting Vets

Close to 2,000 women veterans and servicewomen signed an open letter demanding justice for Spc. Vanessa Guillen within the first 36 hours of the letter's publication. The letter calls for a Congressional investigation into Guillen's disappearance, the resignation of every person in her chain of command at Fort Hood in Texas, the closure of Fort Hood, and a halt to all enlistments in the military until justice is served.

"For over two months, the disturbing circumstances surrounding Spc. Guillen’s disappearance and the environment of sexual harassment she endured in her unit prior to her murder have gripped the attention of various communities across the country and incited a resounding need for the utmost accountability and attention," the open letter reads. 

The letter -- addressed to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and others -- cites issues of sexual harassment and race as key factors in the military justice system's failure of Guillen. The grassroots effort is led by women vets, servicewomen and advocates, especially Latina veterans.

"Despite recent updates in the case the following facts are immutable: that Spc. Vanessa Guillen told her family she was being sexually harassed at her unit; that Spc. Vanessa Guillen feared she would not be believed, and feared retaliation if she reported the sexual harassment; and that thousands of current and former servicewomen recognize themselves in Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s experience, sharing their own stories under the viral hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen. Their experiences expose the military's systemic and longstanding failure to effectively address rampant sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks," the letter continues.

The letter followed a kind of reignition of the #MeToo movement in the military community online after details of Guillen's death surfaced, featuring an outpouring of stories from women veterans and service members on social media-- stories of their experiences with sexual harassment, assault, rape and other discrimination and harm in the service with the hashtag "#IAmVanessaGuillen."

"We demand swift justice for Vanessa. We demand: Not one more," the letter closes.

Sunday evening, Guillen's family revealed they received official confirmation of her death. 

"On July 3rd, the Army called me to confirm that the bones, hair and other remains found belong to Vanessa Guillen," Natalie Khawam, attorney and spokeswoman for the Guillen family, confirmed to Connecting Vets. "We are at a loss for words. This should never have happened. Our country has lost a beautiful young soldier because the system is broken." 

Guillen, 20, was last seen in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Her car keys, barracks' room key, ID and wallet were all found in the armory. 

On Tuesday, Army Criminal Investigation Command and local law enforcement officials said human remains were found in an area near the Leon River and as of Thursday evening, they had not been officially identified yet.

But Natalie Khawam, attorney for the Guillen family, and a criminal complaint filed in Texas District Court, shed light on Guillen's fate, and the people officials suspect are responsible. 

The last person to see Guillen alive, according to the complaint, told investigators she left the armory where she worked to go to one controlled by Spc. Aaron Robinson "to confirm serial numbers of weapons and equipment," leaving behind her belongings. 

A search of her phone records showed her last outgoing text message was to Robinson, the complaint said. When interviewed by investigators, Robinson said Guillen left his armory to take paperwork to the motorpool. But she never arrived. 

Khawam said CID officials told her, and the criminal complaint also says, that Spc. Aaron Robinson killed Guillen. 

Khawam said she was told Robinson and Guillen argued in the armory where both worked after Guillen discovered he was allegedly having an affair with the estranged wife of a former soldier, Cecily Aguilar.

During the argument, Robinson allegedly bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer.

"This heinous act caused blood to be splashed all over the room," Khawam said. 

Robinson then concealed her body in a container and later disposed of the body near the Leon River with help from Aguilar, his married girlfriend.

Two witnesses told investigators they saw Robinson wheel a tough box out of the armory to his vehicle and drive away on April 22, the complaint said. Witnesses said the wheeled box "appeared very heavy in weight." 

Khawam said Robinson picked up Aguilar so she could help him dispose of the body. 

The criminal complaint said a search of Aguilar and Robinson's cell phone records, including location data, led them to search the area near the Leon River where Guillen's remains were later found. Scattered remains in a "concrete-like substance" were originally discovered on June 30, the complaint reads. 

After finding the remains, investigators again interviewed Aguilar, who told them Robinson hit Guillen with a hammer "multiple times at his arms room, killing her on Fort Hood" and said Guillen "never made it out of (Fort Hood) alive."

She said Robinson took her to the area near the Leon River, opened the tough box and showed her Guillen's body. They then proceeded to dismember Guillen's body together using "a hatchet or ax and a machete-type knife." When they could not burn the body, they placed her remains "in three separate holes" and covered them. 

"At first they tried to set her on fire, but she wouldn't burn," Khawam said. "Then they dismembered this beautiful U.S. soldier's body with a machete. She needs to be brought to justice." 

Aguilar and Robinson returned to the site on a later day, uncovered Guillen's remains, "continued the process of breaking down the remains," burned them again, "along with their gloves and hairnets" before placing the remains back in the three holes with concrete Aguilar purchased, the complaint reads. Robinson and Aguilar then allegedly burned the clothing they were wearing at their home. 

On Tuesday night, Robinson fled his barracks and Fort Hood after the remains were found, the complaint reads. Aguilar helped law enforcement locate Robinson by calling and texting him. On Wednesday morning, as law enforcement "attempted to make contact," according to CID, Robinson "brandished a pistol and shot himself in the head," dying by suicide, the complaint reads. 

Robinson, 20, of Calumet City, Ill., was a coworker of Guillen's, Fort Hood and CID officials said. He was not a supervisor in her chain of command. Robinson was a small arms repairer with the Forward Support Troop, Engineer Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. 

Aguilar, 22, was arrested Wednesday and charged by civilian authorities on Thursday with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence in connection with Guillen's disappearance, according to a Justice Department statement about a criminal complaint.

Khawam and the Guillen family believe efforts were made at Fort Hood to protect Robinson or otherwise conceal the truth from the family. 

"They should be ashamed of themselves. Protocol was breached in every manner. We lost one of our own on our own base," Kahwam said at a press briefing last Tuesday. "Everything we were given was lies. It was evasive. They were very disingenuous to us. I don't know who's covering up for who but it doesn't matter." 

"Vanessa’s disappearance highlights a multitude of systemic problems within the military’s culture and the military justice system," the Service Women's Action Network said in a statement. "There are deep and pervasive problems in the military that are exemplified by the increasing rates of sexual harassment of servicewomen, the dismissal of sexual assault cases, the fear of reprisal for reporting, and the complete lack of accountability for military leaders who are responsible for military culture and military justice. Both the mishandling of this investigation and the injustices surrounding service women must be addressed."