It was news they never wanted to hear, but have believed was coming for a while.
The attorney and spokeswoman for the family of Spc. Vanessa Guillen has confirmed to Army Times that Army investigators have informed them the remains found Tuesday in a shallow grave by a river in Texas are indeed those of the Fort Hood soldier who went missing more than two months ago.
“On July 3rd, the Army called me to confirm that the bones, hair and other remains found are Vanessa Guillen,” said Natalie Khawam, the family’s attorney. “We are at a loss for words. Our country has lost a beautiful young soldier because the system is broken.”
Although the family was informed Friday, they didn’t notify the media until Sunday, Khawam said.
Human remains were found Tuesday near the Leon River in Bell County, about 20 miles east of Fort Hood, during the search for the 20-year-old Guillén, who had been missing since April. She was killed and dismembered by a fellow soldier who took his own life last week, federal and military investigators have said.
Army officials identified the soldier suspected in Guillén’s disappearance as 20-year-old Spc. Aaron David Robinson. A criminal complaint released Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas also charged a Killeen, Texas, woman with helping dismember and bury Guillen’s body.
Cecily Aguilar, 22, who has been described as Robinson’s married girlfriend, helped Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body along the Leon River after she was killed on April 22, the complaint alleged. The two worked together to burn the body, dismember it, mix the parts with concrete and bury the remains in three holes, the filing added.
Many of the details of how investigators say Guillen was killed and dismembered were first reported by Army Times on Thursday. Aguilar was charged later in the afternoon with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Her first court appearance is Monday.
Guillén’s family has said through their lawyer that they believe she was sexually harassed by the military suspect and have called for a congressional investigation. However, they have also said Vanessa Guillen described the person who harassed her as a sergeant and a supervisor. Robinson is a specialist and a co-worker, not her supervisor.
Army investigators have said they could find no connection between the murder and the alleged harassment of Guillen.
The family also believes the Army dragged its feet after Guillen went missing, and it wasn’t until the family and activists in Texas brought the case into the national consciousness and enlisted the aid of members of Congress, that there was movement in the search for Guillen and the investigation.
At a press conference Thursday, Army officials pushed back against the idea that they hadn’t been working with urgency to find Guillen and resolve the case.
“What I was able to share [with the family] was tempered by my responsibility to protect the investigation so that we could a) find Vanessa; b) prosecute those responsible for this travesty, and in the end be in a position to punish them,” said Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commander Fort Hood and III Corps, during the press conference. “I just wish I could have done a better job balancing those two needs.”
Texas Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, who has been helping the Guillen family, issued a statement Sunday in response to Spc. Vanessa Guillen being identified and demanded justice for the Guillen family.
“I am heartbroken for Vanessa Guillen and join everyone across the country in prayer for the Guillen family” Garcia wrote. “Vanessa was a 20-year [old] Latina soldier with a bright future ahead of her. Sadly, that bright future was cut short while she was serving our country.
“I will continue to work with the family until they get justice for Vanessa and we guarantee this never again happens to another soldier.”
The Guillen family intends to keep pushing for justice for Vanessa. They are urging Congress to pass legislation that would mandate the creation of a third-party entity where military members could report sexual assault and harassment without fear of reprisal or neglect within their chain of command.
“Enough is Enough!” Khawam said in her statement to Army Times. “Congress must pass the #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN Bill immediately!”