On November 5, 2001, in Hanau, Germany, Army Private Amanda Gonzales was found murdered in her barracks at the age of 19.
The young private was reportedly four months pregnant. Despite an official investigation, no suspect was arrested in her murder.
Gonzales’ parents never gave up hope for an arrest and justice for their daughter.
“I hope they find who did this before I pass away,” Santos Gonzales, her father, said according to KBTX in 2020. “I’m heartbroken. I have a million questions that nobody can answer and it feels like a cover-up. Her death was put on the back burner and they won’t release any information. I’ve tried. They won’t tell me anything.”
Now, it appears the senior Gonzales might get the answers he’s been waiting decades for. Shannon L. Wilkerson, 42, a former service member now living in Florida, has been arrested and charged with her murder. Wilkerson has pled not guilty, with a trial date set for March 27 in Pensacola, FL.
Authorities pointed to the need to conduct a thorough investigation and gathering evidence as an explanation to why Gonzales’ case remained open for so long.
In a statement, the Department of Justice confirmed that the arrest was a cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), The FBI Jacksonville Office of Special Investigations and the Army Criminal Investigative Division, as well as that Wilkerson was charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which gives U.S. courts jurisdiction over former members of the armed forces for crimes committed overseas.
Gonzales’ mother, Gloria Bates, was shocked when she finally received the call that an arrest had been made.
“It was just the same call. Every …once a week,” Bates said, according to ABC News. “I’d get a call, answer it, nothing new, saying it was the same story. It was like a recording. Every time we come visit her graveside, I tell her: I’m not giving up. I am not giving up.”
Cases like Gonzales’, along with that of Vanessa Guillen, a 20 year old Army Specialist who was murdered in Fort Hood, Texas, in 2020 following suspected sexual harassment, spurned activism that called for revision of military investigation policy.
Under the new guidelines, service member’s personal chains of command are no longer authorized to prosecute cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault, as they are referred to external investigation. Members who lodge complaints will be provided protections from retaliation.