Texas Legislature advances bill to honor fallen Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, murdered at Fort Hood in 2020
The bill seeks to call Sept. 30, Specialist Guillén’s birthday, as ‘Vanessa Guillén’ Day in the Lone Star State. It heads to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk.
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Editor's note: Nigel Thompson contributed to this report.
On June 30, 2020, news of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén’s tragic death at the hands of a peer in Fort Hood, Texas, sent shockwaves through the country.
Almost three years later and with no clear rectitude on behalf of Guillén’s family, the Texas Legislature took a step to honor her memory by advancing a bill that observes Sept. 30 as ‘Vanessa Guillén’ day.
House Bill 2248 was introduced by State Representative Josey García, a Democrat who is herself a veteran and hopes to “increase awareness of and the military’s response to missing persons, sexual assault, and sexual harassment cases for service members,” the bill’s text reads.
García, a first-year member of Texas’s 88th legislative body, is a newcomer to the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee, which is the body that created and forwarded the bill to the Governor’s desk, where it awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.
Testifying in favor of the bill, Mayra Guillén — the fallen soldier’s sister — told local media that “many people came to testify” in favor of the proposal. “Veterans organizations. A number of people. So it was a great outcome. And the bill got passed," Guillén told Fox.
Although the bill is yet to be codified into law by Abbott, the legislature’s bill marks a step toward continuing awareness surrounding sexual assault and harassment of female military officers as the family seeks justice through a lawsuit.
Specialist Guillén went missing in mid-April 2020, and months later, the remains of her body were found in the parking lot of her squadron’s base at Fort Hood, and an investigation tied her peer, Specialist Aaron Robinson, as the perpetrator of the crime.
Robinson, who committed the crime alongside his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, took his own life shortly after being found guilty on Nov. 29.
By December, investigations swept through Fort Hood squadrons, and as many as 14 members of army staff, including leaders, were either fired or suspended over allegations of assault or harassment at the nation’s third-largest army base.
“According to court documents, from April 22, 2020 through July 1, 2020, Aguilar assisted Army Specialist Aaron Robinson in corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating and concealing evidence — that is, the body of Vanessa Guillen — in order to prevent Robinson from being charged with and prosecuted for any crime,” penned a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
Aguilar pleaded guilty in a November 2022 trial and faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, a $1 million fine, and possibly 12 years of supervised release after completing her sentence.
The Vanessa Guillén effect
Although Army leaders declined to comment on the ongoing investigations at the time, reports of the investigation found a culture of abuse towards women ran rampant and unchecked at the base.
The investigation found deep shortfalls within the base to properly fund and staff a sexual assault and harassment prevention program.
Of the more than 500 female soldiers interviewed, investigators found 93 credible accounts of sexual assault, and according to the New York Times, only 59 were reported, in addition to 135 reports of sexual harassment instances, of which 72 were reported.
The report concluded that a “business as usual approach” taken by Fort Hood leadership resulted in a toxic culture where victims, according to the report, were “vulnerable and preyed upon, but fearful to report and be ostracized and re-victimized.”
Trapped in that culture was Guillén, who suffered sexual assault by other peers, not Robinson, prior to her death.’
The family sues
In August 2022, the family enlisted the help of Natalie Khawam, who filed a $35 million suit against the United States Army for sexual assault and seeks to hold them accountable for the wrongful death of Specialist Guillén.
Another soldier’s death
The news of Vanessa Guillén Day almost becoming a reality in Texas also comes as another soldier’s family seeks answers from the army about her death.
Pvt. Ana Basaldua Ruiz was reported dead at Fort Hood on March 13, 2023. In a situation very similar to Guillén’s, Basaldua Ruiz had also reported to friends and family that she experienced harassment on the base before her death.
The investigation into Basaldua Ruiz’s death closed with no foul play suspected, but some advocacy groups are calling for an independent one.