FORT HOOD, Texas – Thursday marks the one year anniversary since 20-year-old Army specialist Vanessa Guillen was murdered on April 22, 2020.
Guillen’s disappearance became the focus of a nationwide search before her remains were found in a concrete-like substance buried along the Leon River.
She was last seen in the parking lot of her barracks at the Fort Hood Army post the day she was killed. It wasn’t until June 30, more than two months later, that partial human remains were found during a search for the missing soldier.
It would be another week before former Fort Hood Senior Commander, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt confirmed the remains found near the Leon River June 30 were Guillen.
Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, of Calumet City, Illinois killed Guillen and had Cecily Aguilar, 22, of Killeen help him dismember the body, according to an interview Aguilar has with investigators after Guillen disappeared.
She confessed to investigators at the time that she and Robinson, who was described as her boyfriend, used a “hatchet or ax” and a “machete type knife” to remove Guillen’s limbs and head before attempting to burn Guillen’s body.
The pair then attempted to burn the body but “the body would not burn completely” so they placed the remains in three separate holes and covered them up, according to the affidavit states.
Robinson killed himself July 1, 2020 the day after Guillen’s remains were discovered. Aguilar, who Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam said tried to flee the country after Guillen’s murder, was charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence for her alleged role in Guillen’s death.
Lawyers for Aguilar are now trying to get a judge to throw out the confession, saying it was obtained illegally, according to KPRC. Aguilar has pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy to tamper with evidence charge.
Guillen’s family spoke publicly after her disappearance saying that Guillen told them she had been sexually harassed by a sergeant at Fort Hood, believed to be Robinson. Army investigators said last June that they had no credible evidence that Guillén had been sexually harassed or assaulted.
During the investigation Efflandt said “to the victims of sexual harassment and assault, we hear you, we believe you and I encourage you to come forward. The Army will not stop its efforts to eradicate sexual harassment and assault until it no longer exists in our formations, because that’s the Army standard.”
Efflandt has since moved on, but not without controversy. According to the Army Times, officials with the Army reversed an announcement in February that declared Efflandt would be made deputy commander of U.S. Army North. A scathing report from Fort Hood Independent Review Committee, published last November, found that “there is strong evidence that incidents of sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood are significantly underreported.”
Another finding listed in the report said that “the command climate at Fort Hood has been permissive of sexual harassment/sexual assault.”
Efflandt has been reassigned as the special assistant to the commander of the U.S. Army North.
The Texas Tribune published an article in December that sheds light on 14 U.S. Army leaders, including commanders and other leaders, that were fired or suspended at Fort Hood “in an effort to correct a yearslong culture of sexual assault and a pattern of violence at the base.”
According to KCEN, Texas legislators unanimously voted Tuesday to make Sept. 30, Guillen’s birthday, “Vanessa Guillen Day.”
A bill named for slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen that would change how the military responds to missing service members and make sexual harassment a crime in the military was introduced in Washington in September.
“The ‘I am Vanessa Guillen Act’ would make sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and move prosecution decisions of sexual assault and harassment cases out of the military chain of command, according to the bill’s sponsors,” CNN reported.
The “I Am Vanessa Guillen” Act has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services and has yet to be passed by Congress.