Who was Vanessa Guillen, the 20-year-old soldier who had claimed to be sexually harassed before her death?
Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old private first class stationed at US Fort Hood Army went missing after she was last seen in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, 3rd Cavalry Regiment at around 1 pm 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.
Born and raised in the Houston area, she had a passion for outdoor sports. Her family members told CrimeOnline that Vanessa "loved to jog but has always been avid about sports and learning," and she "graduated in the top 15% of her high school class, where she played soccer and remained active with other physical activities."
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." Gloria, who speaks Spanish, told CrimeOnline as her daughter Mayra translated her words: "She said it was stalking and verbal harassment. He would look at her some type of way that would make any woman feel uncomfortable."
The sergeant would also follow her when she went jogging and Gloria wanted to report the incident. However, Vanessa pushed it and promised to "take care of it." She also said that the base was "evil" and had trouble sleeping at night, something that never happened to her before. Due to her fear, she didn't want her mother to be in danger after reporting the unnamed man.
Soon after her disappearance, the Army initially offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts, and then increased the reward to up to $25,000. As per the description on her family's website, Vanessa "had tattoos of a cross with a flower on her left arm, a flower also on her left arm and a mountain with a circle on her upper left shoulder." Her sister, Mayra, recounted a close encounter with the suspect and said she "met him not knowing he had something to do with it".
With the help of Dallas, Texas Representative Sylvia Garcia, a Latino civil rights organization, actress Salma Hayek and other celebrities, the news of her disappearance reached more people all across the nation. 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. According to the family's attorney Natalie Khawam, a text message sent on Vanessa's cellphone was a serial number of a gun she had to review. The attorney called the text message “disturbing” and suspected someone else's hand in sending it.
"How can you not have these answers? The irony. You talk about all these gate checks and all these security checks… yet someone goes missing? This doesn’t happen. And the fact that, she wasn’t even supposed to be working that day. She was off that day. Why did they call her in?" Khawan told CBS News, slamming the Army.
On April 27, a joint search was held by military members and local police as Vanessa's friends and family rallied in Killeen, Texas at Lyons Park. More than 150 people had been interviewed along with ground and air searches, assisted by more than 500 soldiers, drones, helicopters and dogs. 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 and the main suspect in the case, a fellow soldier, who killed himself the same day.
Expressing her dismay, Garcia hinted at foul play from the Army and said that "this is not the first time we hear of allegations of sexual assault in the armed services". The US Army Criminal Investigation Command claimed there was "no credible information" that Vanessa was assaulted and also denied that her case was linked to the disappearance of Gregory Wedel-Morales, another soldier who went missing in August 2019 while driving his car in Killeen, Texas.
According to CID officials, this is still an open and ongoing criminal investigation. "There is still a lot of investigative work to be done and we ask for the public and media’s patience," Chris Grey, the spokesman for Army CID said. "There are obviously pieces of information and evidence that cannot be shared with the public during an active criminal investigation. Doing so can seriously jeopardize the charging and successful prosecution of individuals. When important investigative information is prematurely released, criminals can and will destroy evidence, conspire to change their stories, build false alibis, etc."