I Am Vanessa Guillen trends as family plans sexual assault bill for soldiers, Internet says 'country failed you'
Vanessa's mother wanted to report her daughter's alleged sexual harassment but she said that other female soldiers had reported but the US Army didn’t believe them
Vanessa Guillen was a 20-year-old private first class stationed at US Fort Hood Army who went missing on April 22, 2020. If reports are to be believed, she had left her car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet in the arms room. Just before her disappearance, Vanessa told her mother Gloria Guillen that she didn't feel safe at Fort Hood, in part due to a sergeant who Gloria said had been sexually harassing her. Soon after her disappearance, the Army initially offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts, and then increased the reward to $25,000. Her mother Gloria vowed to shut down the base if her daughter was found dead and the Army even increased the reward to $50,000.
On July 1, Vanessa's family publicly announced in a news conference that her likely remains were found in a shallow grave near the Army installation in Texas. As reported, she was allegedly killed in an arms room on April 22 by fellow soldier Spc. Aaron Robinson, who was ranked above her at the time and therefore fit the description of her alleged abuser. He died by suicide after police confronted him the same day.
Natalie Khawam, the attorney representing Vanessa’s family, announced that she will introduce the “#IamVanessaGuillen” bill at the nation’s capital next week, as per ABC Action News. The bill will be introduced on September 16 at noon on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. The bill, which was proposed in July, will allow soldiers to report a sexual assault to a third party. "It will provide the victim a right to be heard an independent investigation, not conflicted, not biased," Khawam said last month during a press conference in downtown Tampa. According to the report, Vanessa’s mother had volunteered to report the sexual harassment for her daughter but she reportedly told her mother that other female soldiers “had reported sexual harassment and that the US Army didn’t believe them", according to the family’s website.
ABC's 20/20 revealed new details in the case of Guillen during a two-hour special on September 11. A short video posted from their official account shows Vanessa's family talking about her, her childhood and how she wanted to be in the military since she was a kid. This heartbreaking video was tweeted with the caption: "Vanessa Guillen’s family told @JohnQABC that she was very athletic growing up and she dreamed about signing up for the army since she was 10 years old 'to defend her country, her homeland'."
As per ABC report, Ryan McCarthy, secretary of the US Army, is not sure if there will ever be justice for Vanessa, but he says “it's clear” that her family was let down by the Army. He told 20/20, “We have to find answers and we will hold people accountable."
25 News anchor Lindsay Liepman talked to ABC News anchor John Quiñones. While talking about the family he said, "Their dogged determination to find answers. The tragic thing is the main suspect winds up killing himself, so the Guillen family will never know why their daughter was killed. Robinson will never go to trial. I asked the Secretary tonight and you'll see it on 20/20, will there ever be justice for Vanessa Guillen. His answer was, 'I just don't know'."
Vanessa Guillen’s family told @JohnQABC that she was very athletic growing up and she dreamed about signing up for the army since she was 10 years old “to defend her country, her homeland.” #IAmVanessaGuillen #VanessaGuillen #ABC2020 https://t.co/K48Sh4guky pic.twitter.com/NMjf3Y07cW— 20/20 (@ABC2020) September 12, 2020
Soon #IAmVanessaGuillen started trending. A user said, "In tears when I see and hear her sisters and mom talk. #IAmVanessaGuillen #ABC2020." Another upset user said, "Such a sad story. her poor family deserves answers !! #IAmVanessaGuillen #JusticeForVanessaGuillen." One user promised, "One thing is for sure, the world will NEVER forget you! #JusticeforVanessa #VanessaGuillen #IAmVanessaGuillen #ABC2020."
One heartbroken user said, "I just watched the 20/20 episode about Vanessa Guillén & my heart hurts for her family. I pray her story changes the way the Army handles Sexual Assault & I pray Ft.Hood takes a hard look inward on how the main suspect got away & found a gun to commit suicide. #IAmVanessaGuillen." Another concurred, "#IAmVanessaGuillen was so hard to watch, even after all this time still no answers." Another said, "I’m sorry this country failed you Vanessa.. #IAmVanessaGuillen #abc."
I just watched the 20/20 episode about Vanessa Guillén & my heart hurts for her family. I pray her story changes the way the Army handles Sexual Assault & I pray Ft.Hood takes a hard look inward on how the main suspect got away & found a gun to commit suicide. #IAmVanessaGuillen— Erica Amaya (@fricafricafresh) September 12, 2020
#IAmVanessaGuillen was so hard to watch, even after all this time still no answers.— Vera Castillo (@TheCoffeedUpMom) September 12, 2020
While Robinson was assumed to be the last person to see her alive, three soldiers at the base claimed they saw Vanessa outside the arms room the day she vanished and this threw off the probe for an entire month, according to Major General Donna Martin, the Army’s provost marshal who leads the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. "They filled out affidavits that said they had seen Vanessa at a different time from when she had actually departed the other arms room. So that gave… essentially an instant alibi for Spc. Robinson, even though they had not really known the correct time of when she had actually departed and headed to the parking lot," Martin said. And there were no cameras in the parking lot or near the arms room.
Army officials said Robinson wasn't officially detained but was under the watch of an unarmed guard and was able to get away. "He was not in police custody because of (how) the legal process works," Martin explained.
Robinson escaped from the base and his escort chased him. "He gets in a vehicle and he flees and he leaves Fort Hood," Martin told ABC. Robinson was finally stopped but as they closed in on him, he shot himself. While officials did not reveal where Robinson obtained the gun and how he had access to the vehicle, Martin said the “firearm, I can tell you, was not a government weapon. So he did not get it from his arms room".
Martin said Robinson was tipped off by the news coverage of Guillen’s remains as he read about new developments on his phone. "The media broadcast was really kind of what we believe to be the tipping point for Spc. Robinson to flee," Martin added. But Martin also said there is no proof Robinson sexually harassed Vanessa. "In our criminal investigation, we found no evidence of sexual harassment between Vanessa and Spc. Robinson… That was ruled out very early."