Spc. Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed by a supervisor in her unit prior to her murder and she informally reported — twice — but unit leadership failed to take appropriate action, an Army investigation has determined.
Guillén’s family made those allegations last summer, but at the time Army investigators said there was no evidence to support them.
“The findings indicated that [Guillén] was indeed [sexually harassed] on two separate occasions by the same individual soldier,” said FORSCOM chief of staff Maj. Gen. Gene LeBoeuf. “The findings of the investigation were that inappropriate actions were taken by leaders of the unit when they learned of these allegations.”
LeBoeuf declined to identify the person who sexually harassed Guillén. The Army said in a statement that it was a “superior noncommissioned officer” in her unit.
The report did not find evidence that the sexual harassment was related to Guillén’s death at the hands of Spc. Aarron Robinson, who federal prosecutors say killed her in an armory on Fort Hood, Texas, the day she disappeared, April 22, 2020.
However, the report did find that Robinson sexually harassed a different female soldier at Fort Hood.
Robinson killed himself with a handgun on the evening of June 30 as investigators were closing in to take him into custody, according to local police.
The report was approved by FORSCOM boss Gen. Michael X. Garrett, who has directed the relief of five current or former officers and noncommissioned officers in 3rd Cavalry Regiment. Of the five, three will also receive General Officer Memorandums of Reprimand.
Those actions are in addition to the previously announced reliefs of Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, former deputy commanding general of III Corps, as well as Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the former commander and command sergeant major of 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
Army officials said they would not release the names of the battalion level and below commanders and leaders who were punished. A total of 21 soldiers have been punished for the failures found at Fort Hood over the past year.
How Robinson got away
A key question after Robinson died in a Killeen, Texas, neighborhood was how he escaped Fort Hood when he was supposed to be under watch. The FORSCOM report elaborates on his escape, but does not explain how Robinson obtained the gun he allegedly used to kill himself.
“There’s a detailed timeline as part of this report,” LeBoeuf said. “What we can’t comment on right now, because it’s part of a criminal investigation, are those specific actions that took place as a result of [Robinson] leaving that conference room in which he was held, and the actions after that.”
On June 30, Army CID published a news release that announced unidentified remains had been found miles from post, buried along the Leon River. They would later prove to be those of Guillén.
At about 5 p.m. the day the remains were discovered, Army CID contacted one of Robinson’s leaders and asked that Robinson be kept “under guard and not let out of sight,” the report states.
Robinson was already restricted to the barracks and under quarantine, because a soldier he worked out with had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Robinson was supposed to be told he was being put under watch because he broke quarantine protocol.
He was placed in a regimental conference room where the door — the only exit — remained open. Robinson was in civilian clothes, in possession of a cell phone that he was on throughout his time under guard, and wearing headphones, the report stated.
At almost 10 p.m., an officer sent a group text message saying, “To be clear, if SPC Robinson leaves his new quarantine circumstances, tackle his ass and call the MPs.”
But the soldier guarding Robinson was not on any of the leadership group chats and didn’t receive the message, the report noted. Robinson was then allowed to use the latrine in his barracks. An escort said Robinson “spent a couple of minutes looking for something in his room,” before returning to the conference room, the report added.
Robinson called his mother at about that time, and the guard recalled overhearing Robinson say, “Don’t believe what you hear about me.” Just after 10 p.m., Robinson moved to the conference room door and began slowly pacing back and forth, occasionally leaning on the door.
The guard verbally directed Robinson to get away from the door and sit down. After a couple more warnings, Robinson sat down. Then, the investigation stated, Robinson fled the room. The guard attempted to pursue, before notifying others of Robinson’s escape.
Police in Killeen issued a “Be On the Lookout” notice for Robinson after he fled post. Law enforcement tracked Robinson to the 4700 block of East Rancier Ave., but as officers attempted to make contact, “the suspect produced a weapon and committed suicide by shooting himself,” Killeen police said.
Both CID and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s Engineer Squadron could have done more to prevent Robinson from fleeing the conference room, the investigation stated.
“CID failed to clearly communicate that SPC Robinson was a soldier of heightened interest rather than just another soldier for a follow-up interview, and the [Engineer Squadron] failed to recognize the change in procedures and subtle indicators from CID that this was more than just another followup interview,” the investigation reads.
Guillén’s sexual harassment allegations
The sexual harassment allegations Guillén informally reported involved two incidents against one soldier who was her superior.
The soldier solicited Guillén in Spanish to participate in a sexual act which Guillén translated as a “threesome,” according to the investigation. In another instance, the soldier intentionally walked in on Guillén performing personal hygiene in the field, the investigation stated.
Many of Guillén’s friends and coworkers reported that Guillén had shared accounts of inappropriate behavior and sexual comments made by the soldier. Guillén told them the individual made her feel “uncomfortable.” She described him as “a creep.”
During the course of the investigation, no evidence was found that Guillén reported the incidents to a chaplain, a healthcare provider or a sexual misconduct investigator. However, Guillén made informal reports to others in the unit, as well as family members, who have said that Guillén did not make a formal complaint for fear of retribution from her chain of command.
The command climate at 3rd Cavalry Regiment “did not sufficiently emphasize the response and prevention of sexual assault or sexual harassment,” and the “ineffectiveness of Fort Hood’s SHARP program compounded” the problems within the regiment.
“When presented with allegations, Spc. Guillén’s Chain of Command failed to take appropriate action,” the report reads.
During the investigation, it came out that Robinson had sexually harassed a soldier who was not Guillén, according to LeBoeuf.
Between April and September 2019, Robinson sexually harassed a female specialist at Fort Hood “through a clear progression of events, cell phone text solicitations, in-person encroachments and potential stalking,” the investigation reads.
But there was no evidence he did the same to Guillén, LeBoeuf said.
“During the course of our investigation, we found no credible evidence to conclude Spc. Robinson sexually harassed Spc. Guillén or that they had any relationship outside of their work setting,” the investigation reads.
LeBoeuf declined Friday to discuss the motive Robinson had for killing Guillén, which he said is the purview of an ongoing criminal investigation by Army CID and the FBI.
Where the criminal case stands now
Though Robinson is dead, investigators are prosecuting his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, who allegedly helped Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body along the Leon River, about 30 miles from Fort Hood.
The two worked together to burn the body, dismember it, mix the parts with concrete and bury the remains in three holes, according to a criminal complaint against Aguilar.
Aguilar’s attorneys have filed in recent weeks to have U.S. District Judge Alan Albright dismiss all charges against her because the complaint “is shockingly bereft of factual detail,” a court filing reads. “Each count is largely a recitation of the statutory language of the offense it charges, with limited or no application to Ms. Aguilar.”
Police officers talked to Aguilar at a Killeen convenience store June 30 — the day Guillén’s remains were found — and later brought her to a station for further questioning, the court filings read.
Aguilar told police that she was dating Robinson and stated that Robinson killed Guillén and enlisted Aguilar to help dispose of Guillén’s body, according to court filings.
However, Aguilar’s attorneys asked last month that Judge Albright throw out her confession. Aguilar’s attorneys say the confession was illegally obtained because she was not read her Miranda rights by civilian investigators.
Decisions on those requests are expected in the coming months.
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.