Texas congresswoman, 87 colleagues support review of Guillen case
HOUSTON, Texas (KWTX) - U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston and 87 other members of Congress have signed a letter that Garcia wrote in support of an independent review of Fort Hood’s handling of the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, by Department of Defense Inspector General Sean O’Donnell.
“There are still many questions left unanswered surrounding her disappearance and about how Fort Hood conducted its investigations,” Garcia said in a press release Monday.
Guillen was last seen sometime between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on April 22 in the parking lot of her 3rd Cavalry Regiment Engineer Squadron Headquarters.
Keys to her car and her barracks room and her ID card and wallet was later found in the armory room where she had worked earlier in the day.
Remains found last week near the Leon River have been confirmed to be hers.
According to a federal affidavit, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, of Calumet City, Ill., beat Guillen, to death with a hammer and, with the help of his girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, later dismembered and burned the soldier’s body.
Robinson shot himself to death as Killeen officers approached him last week.
Aguilar remains in custody after an initial hearing Monday.
U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, D-California, requested the review.
Speier chairs the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and Gillibrand is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Personnel of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Congress must act to guarantee this never happens again to another soldier. This is why my colleagues and I strongly support Rep. Speier and Sen. Gillibrand’s request for the DoD Inspector General to conduct a full, independent investigation into Fort Hood’s handling of SPC Vanessa Guillen’s case,” Garcia said.
The letter raises questions about sexual harassment and sexual assaults in the military.
“Before her disappearance and murder, Spc. Guillen confided in her family that she felt unsafe in Fort Hood due to experiences with sexual harassment, which she did not report out of fear for her personal safety,” Garcia wrote in the letter.
“In response to this case, current and former Latina service members have demonstrated incredible bravery in sharing their experiences with sexual harassment and assault in the military. Their stories reinforce a troubling reality revealed in the Defense Department’s fiscal year 2019 report on sexual assault in the military, which reported a 3% increase in the number of sexual assault cases compared to 2018,” she wrote.
“This epidemic of sexual violence disproportionately impacts women of color, who are also less likely to report their sexual harassment or assault out of fear of retaliation. This is deeply concerning given that the ranks of the United States military have become more diverse over time. Latinos are the fastest growing population in the military, accounting for up to 16% of all active-duty military,” she wrote.
U.S. Reps. John Carter, R- Round Rock, and Roger Williams, R-Austin, whose districts include the sprawling post, both issued statements Monday evening, as well.
“No judicial conclusion can ever make up for the loss that Vanessa’s family is feeling, but as a former judge, I pray that the justice system is swift and finds those responsible for this horrific crime punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Carter said.
“In addition, the allegations made by Vanessa’s family of sexual harassment are very troubling. What is additionally concerning is that it’s been alleged that Spc. Guillen didn’t feel comfortable coming forward to her leaders about the harassment. While the investigation is ongoing, I want to reaffirm that there is no place for sexual abuse of any kind in our nation’s military or in our society. The military’s system must empower victims to speak up and severely punish those who violate the rights of their fellow service members. Adequate investigation and justice for victims is imperative, and there is no room for anything less than that,” he said.
Williams echoed Carter’s sentiments.
“My prayers are with her family and the Fort Hood community during this trying time. The search for answers into her tragic death must continue, and I call upon the Department of Defense and law enforcement to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation that leads to those responsible being fully brought to justice,” he said.