WARNING: This story contains graphic content.
It’s been more than two years since US Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén was murdered at age 20, and now a new documentary sheds light on her family’s struggle for answers.
On November 17, Netflix released a film titled “I Am Vanessa Guillén,” detailing how the Texan’s disappearance and death resulted in hundreds of service members across the country coming forward with sexual trauma within the military. . It includes new interviews with Guillén’s mother, sisters, close friends and boyfriend, as well as with US Representative Jackie Speier and US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, among others.
“This issue of sexual misconduct within the military has been going on for quite some time,” director Christy Wegener told Fox News Digital. “I wanted to bring attention to the issue in the best possible way to make a change. And because there are still many victims who suffer in silence.”
Guillén’s sister, Lupe Guillén, told Fox News Digital that her beloved sister, who was born and raised in Houston, had big dreams of joining the military since childhood and, despite her mother’s reservations, enlisted. at 18 years old.
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“He was very strong, not only in his physical condition and in playing sports, but in his mentality,” Lupe said. “She always went after what she wanted and never gave up. She just kept going and going. The memory of her laugh reminds me how happy she was here in our hometown. When she first enlisted in the military, I felt like she was a one of the bravest souls, one of the happiest and most respectful people there is.”
The specialist was last seen around noon on April 22, 2020, in the parking lot of her squadron headquarters at Fort Hood, the Texas military installation where she was stationed. Her sister Mayra Guillén told Fox News Digital that it was unusual for her sister not to be in contact with the family.
“I immediately sent him a text and the message was not delivered,” he recalled. “That raised some concern. My first thought was that maybe she might be underground.” [training] where there is no signal. Periodically throughout the day, she would call and text. Nothing happened. He was worried, but he kept thinking that maybe she was in the middle of a training exercise. Maybe she’s too focused. But then more than eight hours had passed without hearing from her.
“I remember the initial conversation I had with a staff sergeant,” he continued. “He had no idea that she was missing. It was very ironic how he was in charge of taking attendance, but he had no idea that she was missing… It was very frustrating that no one knew where my sister was and what they were.” we were supposed to do to find her… It was a complete joke.”
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Investigators searched Guillén’s phone and discovered that the last person he sent a text message to was Army Specialist Aaron Robinson. Special Agent Damon Phelps of Criminal Investigation Command said the 20-year-old worked in a building in Fort Hood that was next door to where Guillen worked. Robinson controlled a weapons room that Guillén headed to from his workplace.
In the documentary, Guillén’s family described how they felt that Fort Hood staff did not provide them with answers about his disappearance. It would not be until July that his remains were found. Investigators were unable to use dental records to identify her due to the condition of her remains. Instead, they used DNA from bone and hair samples. The family received the information in the company of their parish priest.
According to Justice Department officials, Robinson told his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, a 22-year-old civilian from a community near Fort Hood, that he repeatedly struck Guillen over the head with a hammer, killing her. She then hid her body in a big box. According to a federal complaint, she recruited Aguilar to help dispose of Guillén’s body.
Attorney Natalie Khawam said the US Army Criminal Investigations Division told her Robinson cleaned up the area where Guillen was killed, placed his body in a dumpster and took it to his car. After driving to pick up Aguilar, Khawam said the couple drove to a nearby river and tried to burn Guillén’s body, but then hacked it open with a machete. Then, they put cement on the body and buried the remains.
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A few days before a charge was to be announced, Robinson pulled out a gun and shot himself as police tried to contact him.
Aguilar was indicted by an 11-count grand jury. His trial is scheduled to begin on January 23, 2023. He pleads not guilty.
While it is unknown if Robinson made unwanted sexual advances to Guillén, her loved ones suspected that she was sexually assaulted prior to her murder.
Mayra said her sister had talked to her mother about being sexually harassed. From her text conversations, Mayra said that she believed her sister was afraid during her time at Fort Hood.
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In April 2021, the Army said it took disciplinary action against 21 officers and noncommissioned officers at Fort Hood. The punishments included the dismissal of eight senior commanders. An Army report blamed the military for allowing Guillén’s killer to escape custody and ultimately commit suicide. It found that “poor communication” between soldiers guarding Robinson’s failure to notice that he was a “high interest” soldier, contributing to his ability to flee.
In August of this year, Guillén’s family filed a lawsuit. They are seeking $35 million in damages from the US government. The family is seeking damages on the basis of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, sodomy and wrongful death.
An investigation by military officials into Guillén’s death found that she was sexually harassed and that leaders failed to take appropriate action. The lawsuit describes two cases in which Guillén was harassed during her time as a soldier and Guillén’s suicidal thoughts as a result of standing up to the harassment, which he told the family he did not report for fear of retaliation.
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Guillén’s death and her family’s claims that she was harassed and assaulted on the Texas base sparked a movement on social media. It included former active duty military members who spoke about their own experiences in the military using the hashtag #IAmVaessaGuillén.
Lupe said that remaining silent was not an option.
“I think it is a fundamental right to speak up, regardless of age, especially when there is a horrific injustice in the public eye,” he explained. “…I would stand in the sun, under the tremendous heat, losing my voice, for so much shouting and demanding [of justice]. It was very sad and frustrating for me. But I realized that sexual violence is everyone’s problem. It is an unbiased topic. It is not a political move by any party… We met with Congress on several occasions. We raise our voices repeatedly. And that led us to the Oval Office. So for the change to take effect, you have to use your voice. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.”
Portions of the “I’m Vanessa Guillén Act” went into effect in early 2022. It addresses “the Department of Defense’s response to sex-related crimes committed against members of the Armed Forces, including the possibility for a member to confidentially allege a report sexual harassment to an individual outside of that member’s immediate chain of command.”
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According to the film, the Army claims that “its initial investigation uncovered no evidence that Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed and maintains that it has no evidence that Aaron Robinson sexually assaulted her.”
The family said their work is far from over. Since then, they have launched a non-profit organization for survivors of military sexual violence.
“Justice for me is for a change to happen,” Lupe said. “…Justice is raising my sister’s name where people can see and hear it, reminding others that when there is injustice, you demand what is right. You demand justice. It’s as simple as that.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Associated Press contributed to this report.