The Army suspects “foul play” in the disappearance of 20-year-old Pfc. Vanessa Guillen from Fort Hood, Texas, according to an attorney and congresswoman assisting the missing soldier’s family in locating her.
The announcement came as Natalie Khawam, the family’s attorney, said she wanted to see Guillen’s cell phone records that Army CID agents subpoenaed from Sprint. Army officials told her she has to file a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of those documents, the latest in a series of roadblocks the family has hit while seeking answers, she said.
Early this week, Khawam contacted the office of Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy to push for more transparency in the case, she told Army Times.
“We’ve called the secretary of the Army’s office and I’ve contacted the Senate and House Armed Services committees for a congressional investigation,” said Khawam, who added that she’s heading to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with lawmakers’ staffers. “The secretary of the Army did contact the general for the base, because [the general] told us that he got a call from them to look into this matter and make sure we were being provided information that we’re requesting.”
On Tuesday, Fort Hood deputy commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt and 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander Col. Ralph Overland updated the Guillen family on the most recent searches and the status of the investigation.
The two commanders also showed the family Guillen’s work area and the parking lot where she was last seen outside 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s engineer squadron headquarters. She was working in the armory there before disappearing on April 22.
“I will say that the colonel and the general were probably as forthcoming as they could be because it still is a criminal investigation,” said Rep. Sylvia García, D-Texas, during a Tuesday press conference. “They have now used the words foul play. They are convinced now that foul play was involved.”
The family has still not received a “tick-tock” of everything that happened on the day Guillen disappeared, said representatives for the family. One lingering question was why Guillen was brought in to work, according to Khawam. The young soldier wasn’t supposed to work that day due to COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“Why was she called in and who was the person who called her in?” Khawam asked. “They didn’t want to say who the person was.”
Guillen’s chain of command had also been conducting check-ins on soldiers as part of the COVID-19 precautions.
“They had to check in four times a day. We didn’t see the third and fourth check-in,” said Khawam. “Then they admitted that they accounted for her, but she wasn’t really there on the 3 p.m. and the 4 p.m. check-in.”
Guillen was last seen sometime around 1 p.m. in the parking lot of her squadron headquarters on post. But the witnesses who allegedly spotted her didn’t interact with her, and there were no cameras that captured her movement, according to Khawam.
Guillen’s mother has said that her daughter experienced sexual harassment from a sergeant who was her supervisor prior to her disappearance. The 3rd Cavalry Regiment opened a separate investigation into those allegations last week.
Khawam said the supervisor who allegedly harassed Guillen was working with her in the armory on the day of her disappearance. But “we are not disclosing [the name] right now,” she added.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, which describes itself as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization, has also been active in Guillen’s case. The organization said in a press release Tuesday that they were encouraging families to not allow their daughters to enlist in the Army, “since we see they cannot be protected.”
“We have received multiple complaints of women soldiers who have been sexually harassed and assaulted with no actions being taken by superiors to protect them,” the League of United Latin American Citizens stated in the release.
Army CID has offered a reward of up to $25,000 for credible information leading to the whereabouts of Guillen.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.