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Memorial honors slain Fort Hood soldier as family seeks congressional investigation

Cecily Anne Aguilar, a 22-year-old Killeen resident, was arrested in connection to the death of Spc. Vanessa Guillen. (Austin American-Statesman/TNS)

Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s family again called for a congressional investigation into the U.S. Army’s handling of the slain soldier’s disappearance Friday as her entire 3rd Cavalry Regiment gathered in memory of the soldier who authorities say was killed by one of their own.

The 20-year-old soldier’s mother, Gloria Guillen, wept Friday as she knelt by the altar inside the Spirit of Fort Hood Chapel, where her daughter’s boots, helmet, weapon and military photograph were displayed.

Several hundred military service members stood behind the Guillen family as they comforted their matriarch while she mourned. Guillen received full military honors during the memorial service.

The memorial was the family’s first trip back to Killeen since the soldier’s remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County on June 30.

The Guillen family, which is from Houston, lived in Killeen for nearly three months while searching for Vanessa Guillen after she was last seen on April 22.

The Bernie Beck gate at Fort Hood on June 3, 2016, in Fort Hood, Texas. (Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images/TNS)

The family members garnered national attention as they held protests outside the post in Killeen and in Houston and Washington, D.C., demanding answers from Army investigators.

Spc. Aaron David Robinson, who officials say killed himself on July 1, was accused of beating Guillen to death with a hammer while they worked together in an armory room the day she disappeared.

Authorities have also accused Robinson’s 22-year-old girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar of Killeen, of helping Robinson dismember, burn and bury Guillen’s body about 20 miles away from the post.

On Friday, the Fort Hood chapel fell silent as Army officials called out Vanessa Guillen’s name three times during her final roll call.

The silence was broken only by tears and the sounds of the ceremonial weapons firing in her honor.

Lt. Col. Edward Gavin addressed the crowd at the start of the hour-long memorial, saying Guillen’s death left service members with feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, fear, frustration and sadness.

“This is difficult to discuss because the tragedy of her loss has forever changed our squadron and it has forever changed her family,” Gavin said. “And we have so many questions, some of which may never be answered.”

Following Friday’s memorial, Army officials escorted the family to the armory room where they say Guillen was killed.

The soldier’s mother and priest prayed a blessing over the room as they anointed it with holy water.

The family then traveled to an off-post mural of Vanessa Guillen, where 16-year-old Lupe Guillen again called for a congressional investigation into her sister’s death.

“Today we went to a memorial for my sister Spc. Vanessa Guillen,” she said. “They all expressed their condolences, but I said words are nothing. Actions speak louder than words. So if you want to take action, demand a congressional investigation as well.

“I’m not going to stop,” she said. “I’m not going to be silent because God gave me a voice. God gave me a brain and I’m using it as well. We’re all children of God, so use your voice to speak up for Spc. Vanessa Guillen.”

The Guillen family maintained Friday that the soldier was sexually harassed while at Fort Hood. Those accusations are what sparked #IAmVanessaGuillen, the hashtag that became a platform where service members shared their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault.

“This is a human issue, because this can happen to anyone,” Lupe Guillen said while speaking about sexual harassment in the military. “My sister is one of many.”

The Guillen family, along with their attorney Natalie Khawam, plans to introduce a draft of a bill also called #IAmVanessaGuillen. The bill, if signed into law, would allow for a third-party organization to investigate reports of sexual harassment within the military.

On Friday, the Guillen family extended an open invitation to anyone who wanted to travel to Washington on July 30 for a protest at Capitol Hill following the bill’s introduction.


© 2020 Austin American-Statesman

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