The suspected remains of missing Private First Class (Pfc.) Vanessa Guillen were found Tuesday in a shallow grave in Leon River, Bell County, Texas.
Guillen’s story is gaining traction around the nation—prompting local protests and an outcry from celebrities and politicians alike—as the soldier’s family has expressed frustration with the military’s response and its handling of the overall investigation.
Guillen’s disappearance and likely death have also prompted somewhat of a #MeToo moment for the military: Before her disappearance, Guillen had disclosed to her family that she was being sexually harassed and feared retaliation—causing her family to believe foul play in her disappearance.
“There were a few incidents where [Vanessa] had told her colleagues, her friends, her family about being sexually harassed but she was afraid to report it,” said Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam. “How does someone disappear on a base that has more protection and safeguards than anyone else on the planet?”
“If this could happen to Vanessa, this can happen to any one of our sisters, daughters and mothers,” said Khawam. “And we will never know what happened, ever, until we get a congressional investigation.”
Vanessa Guillen’s Story
Pfc. Vanessa Guillen was a 20-year-old Army soldier who mysteriously disappeared from the Fort Hood Army Base on April 22. She was last seen in the parking lot of the squadron’s headquarters, around noon of the same day. Her belongings were found in the armory room, but she and her phone had completely vanished.
Two suspects have been identified. The first is a junior soldier, Spc. Aaron David Robinson. According to Guillen’s attorney, Guillen had planned to report Robinson’s harassment against Robinson the day after she was killed, and that Robinson became enraged when she told him that. When police approached him, on Wednesday in Killeen, Texas, the soldier died by suicide before he could be questioned about his involvement in Guillen’s disappearance.
But another suspect remains: the estranged wife of a Fort Hood soldier, currently in police custody at the Bell County Jail.
More questions surrounding Guillen’s case have surfaced, since Krysta Martinez—a fellow soldier who started the #IAmVanessaGuillen and #FindVanessa movements and pushed for answers in the search for Guillen—died in a car crash in June.
Additionally, Tim Miller, the director of Texas EquuSearch, said the discovery of Guillen’s remains was only 26 miles from where the remains of another missing soldier, Gregory Wedel-Morales, were found June 19. Foul play is believed to have played a role in the death of Wedel-Morales.
The Bigger Questions
How does a young female soldier in fear of reporting her harasser disappear shortly after disclosing sensitive information?
Many have called for a congressional investigation into Vanessa’s disappearance and likely death.
“We will never know what happened, ever, until we get a congressional investigation,” Khawam said on Wednesday.
In addition to an investigation, Khawam is pushing for legislation to initiate better protocols for military members—especially women—to report sexual harassment and assault through third parties. This way, soldiers who report will face less risk as they go up the chain of command.
Over the last few days, in support of Guillen, hundreds of women who serve as military members have taken to social media with disturbing stories of rape and assault. These stories remind us that Guillen’s case isn’t just about one military base or one mysterious disappearance and likely murder, but rather a systemic problem of rape culture within the military.
This is not the first time the U.S. has failed to protect those—especially women—who protect us.
“We need legislation so this never happens again,” said Khawam.
We must hold the people responsible for what happened to Vanessa Guillén, including those who turned—and continue to turn—a blind eye.