FORT HOOD, Texas – 2020 had its ups and downs for many, but Fort Hood experienced its most significant case in decades.
The disappearance, death and investigation of SPC. Vanessa Guillén rocked the Army base to it’s core.
“She can’t just go missing. Just because,” says Vanessa’s sister Mayra Guillén, from a FOX44 story on May 21st.
These words came from a heartbroken sister one month after Vanessa went missing at Fort Hood.
In the weeks to follow – family, friends, and those who were touched by the the family’s plea stood together side by side outside the gates of Fort Hood every Friday to chant and demand justice.
All the while, family and friends searched on their own day by day – losing trust in the Army.
“I want to take initiative and make sure that I clear them out myself, you know? That at this point, it’s a lot of small details that need me to believing that something is being hidden inside,” Mayra said on May 30th.
As the days go on, the Vanessa Guillén case received national attention. Celebrities called for justice on social media, and there was an investigation into allegations of sexual assault on Fort Hood.
“There’s been a lot of case notoriety with this. The family is determined to see this through – to find their daughter and to get answers as to what has happened on Fort Hood. It’s amazing how social media has really come together and has been sharing our message to get Vanessa home,” said FindVanessaGuillen.com Volunteer Public Information Officer Dale Hammerschmidt on June 17th.
“We need to bring Vanessa back to our Army family, and to bring her back to her family,” said III Corps Fort Hood Deputy Commander MAJ. GEN. Scott Efflandt on June 21st.
“They are looking at criminal activity having occurred. The question is who what and when,” said State Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-29, on June 23rd.
On June 22nd, three months after she was last seen on Fort Hood, a tip leads EquuSearch investigators to search along the Leon River in Bell County.
After a week-long search, authorities confirm human remains were found.
“What’s going on in that place? And how do they continue to cover up these crimes?,” asked Guillén family attorney Natalie Khawam on July 1st.
The next day, a suspect – 20-year-old SPC. Aaron Robinson – kills himself as police zeroed in to arrest him.
“As officers attempted to make contact with the suspect, he produced a weapon and committed suicide by shooting himself,” said Killeen Police Department Chief Charles Kimble on July 1st.
Another suspect – 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar – is arrested and charged in connection with the disappearance.
“In the last three days, the investigation has led to the discovery of human remains in Belton, Texas, the arrest of a person from the local community, and the suicide of a soldier who was fleeing apprehension,” said MAJ. GEN. Efflandt on July 2nd.
A criminal complaint later detailed Vanessa’s gruesome death.
“Vanessa’s face was bashed in so badly, there were no teeth for them to identify,” said Khawam on July 6th.
Authorities say Robinson admitted to Aguilar that he killed a female soldier by striking her in the head with a hammer while on Fort Hood on April 22nd – the same day Vanessa went missing.
Authorities say Robinson admitted to Aguilar that Vanessa was burned and beheaded, with her body being left in three separate graves within feet of each other near the Leon River. Aguilar confessed to helping Robinson dispose of the body.
Guillens remains were identified on July 6th. Later in July, Fort Hood hosted a closed memorial for family and friends.
“It was hard. A lot of people paid their respects,” said Mayra on July 17th.
But this was not enough. Vanessa’s family met with President Donald Trump to call for a Congressional investigation into the death of the 20-year-old and the support of the #IamVanessaGuillen bill.
“It hit me very hard. I saw what happened to your daughter Vanessa, who is a spectacular person and respected and loved by everybody, including in the military. We will get to the bottom of a lot of this, and maybe all of it,” said President Trump on July 30th.
In August, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy visited Fort Hood to announce the many investigations taking place inside the post.
“The numbers are high here. They are the highest in most cases for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation in the U.S. Army, so we are getting an outside look to help us get to those root causes and understand, so we can make those changes,” said McCarthy on August 6th.
A week later, Vanessa is laid to rest in her hometown of Houston.
“Her living in her death will not be in vain, because she’s already making a huge difference for other women serving in the military, and quite frankly, in organizations all over,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on August 15th.
Changes to Fort Hood came in December, with 14 people being fired or suspended – including two generals. Findings of an independent review found issues on post directly related with leadership failures.
In the 90-day span, the panel found 93 credible accounts of sexual assault – with only 59 of those reported.
“By next September, we will have turned over 60 percent of the formation here. So its going to be all new soldiers and leaders here. So we’re going to do this again until I’m assured we’re on a good path,” said III Corps Commander LT GEN Robert “Pat” White on December 8th.
The panel reported Fort Hood has been an outlier in A.W.O.L. soldiers, suicides, violent crimes and the highest positive drug test rate among Army posts.
“We don’t want another soldier [to] go missing. We don’t want another victim of sexual harassment,” said Vanessa’s sister Lupé Guillén on December 8th.
As 2020 comes to a close, Vanessa’s family hopes 2021 will be the year of justice. They are waiting on the Vanessa Guillén act from legislature and justice in the judicial system with one suspect still behind bars.