Justice for Vanessa Guillén?

Article by Matt Gallagher

A young soldier was murdered in April for simply trying to do her job and serve her country. Her life and memory are now spurring pushes for hard change in the military.

A Movement is Born

On April 22, 2020, midday on the sprawling Texas base of Fort Hood, a 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier named Vanessa Guillén went missing. While junior soldiers going AWOL is hardly unheard of at Fort Hood, or any other military base, that tends to happen before or after long weekends, not during Wednesday lunches. Further confusing the situation, Guillén’s military ID card, credit card and keys were found inside the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (3CR) armory, where she worked as a small arms mechanic and spent much of her workdays. Whatever this was, it wasn’t normal.

Guillén’s body wouldn’t be found until June 30, more than two months later, when day laborers working near the Leon River came across partial human remains (later confirmed to be Guillén) encased in cement and subsequently notified the police and military. Her suspected murderer — a fellow soldier based at Fort Hood named Aaron David Robinson — would kill himself with a gun that night in nearby Killeen, Texas, when spotted and approached by law enforcement.

A brutal, ugly tale made so much uglier by what did — and what didn’t — happen between April 22 and June 30.

Military CID (criminal investigation department) identified Robinson as a “party of concern” as early as April 28, according to The Washington Post, but never alerted officers in 3CR — who could have put Robinson on watch duty, thus keeping constant tabs on him as the investigation played out. This was just one sign of a lack of urgency and/or bureaucratic incompetence. Guillén’s family shared with investigators her claims of being harassed by Robinson and her plans to report him for sexual harassment, despite initial concerns about not being believed by her unit command.

Further, it took until April 28, nearly a week after Guillén disappeared, for CID to even interview Robinson, whose peculiar interest in Guillén was hardly unknown to 3CR commanders and soldiers. In more damning evidence of delay, it took CID until May 18 to interview two soldiers who saw Robinson struggling with a large supply box outside of the armory on  April 22 — it would later be alleged that’s how he smuggled out Guillén’s body to a car after killing her in the arms room with a hammer.

Because of the slow, quiet nature of any military investigation, it’s unclear any public resolution to Guillén’s disappearance would’ve been found by now if her family had not decided to go public themselves. In May and early June, her mother, Gloria, and sisters, Mayra and Lupe, conducted interviews with local and national media, describing Vanessa’s patriotism and belief in service and begging for her safe return. This brought all kinds of pressure upon the Pentagon to find their missing soldier, pressure that wouldn’t have existed had her family not made the courageous choice to speak out.

Soon thereafter, investigators obtained cell tracking data and claimed it placed Robinson along the Leon River the evening of April 26. And finally, on June 19, CID interviewed Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, who’s accused of helping Robinson encase Guillén’s remains in cement and then bury them. A few days later, authorities said she’d confessed, setting in motion the final act of murder and betrayal.

The particulars of just why the hell the investigation took as long as it did despite Robinson’s seemingly evident guilt from the get-go is, itself, now under investigation. It’ll be interesting to see what results from that. Also interesting, and more relevant to the purpose of this column, is a social movement that has sprung up in the wake of Specialist Guillén’s disappearance and death, known as “I Am Vanessa Guillén.”

The military sword cuts both ways as the shocking murder of our young soldier Vanessa Guillén painfully tells the tale.