It seems like an ordinary Sunday at the Guillén house: you can only hear the little son’s console, the chewing of the adults who have purchased tacos for lunch, and the dad’s sandals when he goes to get more soda from the fridge.
But, when there were really Sundays in this house, the mother, Gloria, had the strength to cook Mexican dishes in the morning, they did not all fit at the table, the reporters were only on television and the eldest daughter, Vanessa, was preparing to return. to the military base of Fort Hood like every week.
Now she is in every corner, but she is not. The walls are lined with portraits of Vanessa painted by artists from around the country, the entrance is an altar full of photos to pray to her every day, and there is a white car that has not been started for months.
The Guillén family has suffered one of the most terrible stories of 2020 in the United States, the disappearance and murder of the 20-year-old Latina soldier at the military base of Fort Hood , Texas. He has also starred in one of the great civil movements of the year, #IAmVanessaGuillen , which has uncovered the high levels of crime at the military installation and has exposed decades of silence on sexual harassment and abuse within the Armed Forces.
The Fort Hood base recorded more than 400 violent crimes in the last three years , including 11 homicides, 48 rapes, 243 sexual assaults, according to data from an independent investigation commissioned by the Army and reviewed by Noticias Telemundo. There were also at least 39 suicides.
It is the most violent military installation among the large bases. And there are 43% more reported sex crimes than the Army average.
Gloria Guillén contemplates a mural honoring her murdered daughter, Vanessa, after it was painted in November 2020 in southeast Houston, where the family resides.Damià Bonmatí
A noisy disappearance
The nightmare that will never end for the Guillén began on April 22, 2020 , in the middle of the pandemic. Neither the soldier’s boyfriend nor sister could contact her:
– Mommy, Vanessa doesn’t answer the messages. What do you mean not? Talk to the base! Something I feel is not right. My daughter had already told me that she was not comfortable and that she was being bothered. Talk to the base! – remembers Gloria Guillén , the mother.
Communications with the Fort Hood base were bumpy from minute one, according to the family. Without news for hours, that night they drove the 200 miles from Houston. But, upon arrival, they were unable to enter the military installation, or clarify where Vanessa was.
With the new day, they undertook, together with three colleagues from the base, a silent search, blindly and without leads, in the area.
The Army, however, says that it contacted the family on April 22, that the official investigation began on April 23 and the first communication of the disappearance was released on April 25. Guillén had left the armory where he worked to go to hand over some gun serial numbers and had left his ID, credit card, and keys behind.
The mother, Gloria Guillén, a Mexican immigrant, feared entering the military base because of her immigration status. He settled nearby, in the city of Killeen, with the conviction that he would not leave there until he found his daughter. He was still unaware that dozens of families had also stopped hearing from their soldiers at Fort Hood in recent years.
Some 72 hours later, Vanessa’s two sisters made the decision that would mark a before and after in that long list of disappearances. “I doubted a lot between sharing and not sharing because it was something so personal,” recalls Mayra Guillén . He tweeted the photo of his missing sister. “Not everything goes viral, but I was lucky and they began to share it a lot. And from there my sister Lupe started with the idea that we create a page just for that ”.
The mother also openly said that her eldest daughter had told her, weeks earlier, that she was being harassed at Fort Hood by another military man. The woman who returned to Houston on weekends had grown quieter and more elusive, her eyes saddened, and she shut herself in her room. The soldier did not want to report it. She told her mother that other girls had made complaints to no avail and that raising her voice would worsen her routine at base.
The Army initially said that it found no evidence that such harassment had occurred.
The tweet and the complaint lit the fuse of the #IAmVanessaGuillen movement that has been adding consequences throughout 2020.
The face of the young Latina, with almost black eyes, brown complexion and a shy smile, raised empathy in the networks, captured the attention of the Spanish media, and generated an avalanche of virtual comments from women.
The pattern used to be repeated: they served or had served in the Army, suffered sexual abuse or harassment and, for the most part, they decided to keep quiet for fear of truncating their military career.
Among the dozens of women, Latina Yarimar Lewis told Noticias Telemundo that she was the victim of sexual harassment by a superior in Fort Hood . “They were comments, inappropriate photos, he asked me sexual questions. Once he was showing me pictures of his sons on his cell phone and he kept passing by and showed me pictures of his penis ”. He did not report it at the time.
Some Latina soldiers felt their own suffering in the story of Vanessa Guillén, saw their own mother in Gloria’s perseverance, and remembered her roots in that East Houston neighborhood where Latino working families like the Guillén seek a better future in the Army. .
Over the weeks, online protests became real at the gates of Fort Hood. Dozens of people called for justice for Vanessa Guillén, held vigils and hung posters of other missing soldiers. Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia took action on the matter and visited the military base.
And, more than two months after the disappearance, the then general in charge of Fort Hood, Scott Effland , recorded a video publicly asking for help in the search for the soldier.
But it was too late. The investigation, which was being kept secret, had a suspect: Private Aaron David Robinson , who worked with Guillén in the same regiment. Two witnesses saw the military man dragging “a toolbox” in a parking lot on the same day of the disappearance. For weeks, the 20-year-old soldier continued with his routine at Fort Hood, although the base put him under observation, the military installation confirmed to Noticias Telemundo.
But it wasn’t until June 21 that data from Robinson’s cell phone led researchers to the Río León basin. Robinson had been there the night of Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance, while the sister, Mayra Guillén, drove through the heavy fog to Fort Hood to find her.
It is a hidden place, more than half an hour from Fort Hood, with difficult access and abundant vegetation, with a noisy highway on one side and with warehouses of construction products on the other.
The Leon River, near Temple, Texas, at the height of where the buried remains of Vanessa Guillén were found.Damià Bonmatí
On June 30, contractors found human remains near the river . It would later be confirmed that they belonged to Vanessa Guillén.
That same day, Robinson fled Fort Hood in his car. The base exit does not have checkpoints or agents to inspect the cars . A few miles from the base, between churches, motels and warehouses, the main suspect committed suicide after being surrounded by police.
According to the sworn statement of an FBI agent, published in July, Robinson killed Vanessa Guillén by hitting her on the head with a hammer in the armory and would have moved the body in a box to his car. He would have picked up his partner, Cecily Aguilar , after work. They drove to the river, cut up the body and tried to burn the parts. At night, both buried the remains of the young soldier .
But all that is a story based on Aguilar’s testimony to the FBI; what the investigators of the federal agency, the Pentagon and the Texas prosecutor’s office still have to know.
Major General John Richardson told Noticias Telemundo that the armory does not have video surveillance cameras.
Aguilar was arrested for conspiring and being an accessory to the murder.
Rogelio Guillén helps his wife, Gloria, down some underground stairs in the Capitol. They met in Zacatecas more than two decades ago. Since her daughter’s murder, Gloria has feared escalators and elevators more than ever.
Early in the morning, in a suburb of Washington, DC, Gloria Guillén’s most difficult mission was to get her youngest son, 4, to pay attention to the tablet. Virtual school had started, but the youngest in the house is pure nerve, and more between trips, family, visits and a family tragedy that perhaps he does not know but feels.
The family loaded suitcases, food boxes and T-shirts with Vanessa’s face to drive almost 24 hours to the capital. They rented an airbnb as a base for their efforts in Washington DC.
Mayra lets her parents know that it’s time to go. Gloria, the mother, fastens her belt and takes a deep breath. Rogerio Guillén , the father, puts his cup of American coffee on the table and checks his shirt in a mirror. In the uber , they are a family visiting Washington DC, they look at the architecture of the capital through the window, and the father talks to the driver.
But, for Gloria, what she sees through the window is a set of this nightmare. He is increasingly afraid of elevators and airplanes. It was in Washington, in a high-rise hotel with an elevator, that the mother found out what they did with her eldest daughter. He looked at Facebook when it wasn’t time to see it. Washington is also where they traveled several times this year to seek justice.
A media lawyer, Natalie Khawam , became his spokesperson and representative in the capital. The Guillen were invited to the White House, where the president, Donald Trump, listened and offered his condolences to the family. They also met with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, and multiple congresswomen from both parties. In corridors and offices, she is often referred to as “Mama Guillén.”
It was in June, in the capital, when one of the sisters, Lupe Guillén , made a speech in English that went viral on social networks:
– My sister Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed on the basis, while she was working. In two months we did not get answers. Two months! Two months! They have lied to us over and over again. They took my sister as if she were a joke. My sister is not a joke. My sister is a human being!
De izquierda a derecha, la congresista Sylvia Garcia; la abogada Natalie Khawam; Lupe Guillén y su madre Gloria Guillén, hablan delante del Capitolio, en Washington DC.
From left to right, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia; attorney Natalie Khawam; Lupe Guillén and her mother Gloria Guillén speak in front of the Capitol, in Washington DC.Damià Bonmatí.
Much of the effort of the family in the capital seeks something: the approval of the bill #IAmVanessaGuillen . The text calls for the creation of an independent body where the military can report cases of sexual harassment and abuse, without the Army knowing about or interfering.
But it has been a hectic year, with a pandemic and an election. Despite the support obtained verbally in the House of Representatives, the bill was never voted on in plenary. The Senate seemed an even more difficult stumbling block, according to several lawmakers. Neither one camera nor the other. The bill must be presented again before the two new chambers formed in January following the results of the November elections.
Arriba, el matrimonio Guillen corre por los pasillos del Capitolio para no llegar tarde a una cita con un congresista. Abajo, Gloria rompe a llorar al mostrarle fotos de Vanessa al legislador republicano Markwayne Mullin.
Attorney Khawam and the Guillén family’s middle sister, Mayra, talk often and coordinate priorities. Not surprisingly, month after month, the Guilléns have been introducing more requests before the public: that they close Fort Hood, that the FBI be the only agency that investigates, that Latinos do not join the Army until there are changes, that the The proposed law is approved, that the entire base staff resign, that they do not recruit young soldiers in secondary schools …
The fighting brought some relief to other families of missing soldiers, who felt heard more than ever. The active search for Vanessa Guillén led to the discovery of the mortal remains of another soldier who disappeared a year ago , Gregory Wedel Morales . The family denounced that, in his day, the base considered him a deserter and did not look for him.
After social and media pressure for the Guillén case, the Army reacted. In August, the Secretary of the Navy, Ryan McCarty , admitted to the media that Fort Hood has “the highest number of cases of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and murders of the entire Army formation.” He commissioned an independent committee, made up of four veterans and a former FBI agent, to investigate the reasons for the crime in and around Fort Hood.
While waiting for the findings, some changes were made to the Texas base. In charge was Major General John Richardson , who arrived in September at the military installation and vindicated himself as a renewed leadership and away from the miseries that the murder of Vanessa Guillén brought to light.
“Soldiers did not feel comfortable approaching their superiors to report sexual harassment or abuse, because they did not trust that their superiors would take any action or hold other leaders accountable,” Richardson said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo Investiga . He also admitted that the protocols for the disappearance of soldiers had to be urgently changed.
In some cases the soldiers were declared deserters and the Army dispensed with an active search for these soldiers. Since mid-October, the base “will no longer assume that the soldier left intentionally but that, until proven otherwise, they are unintentionally missing and we will look for them, ” said the senior officer.
On December 8, the conclusions of the independent investigation were known. Among others, the committee said that at Fort Hood there was a “permissive environment for sexual abuse and harassment . ” A serious McCarty with a rueful voice told reporters:
– The problems at Fort Hood have to do with a lack of leadership. I am deeply disappointed by that lack of leadership, they did not act when allegations of assault and sexual abuse were reported – lamented the Secretary of the Army.
He announced that 14 Fort Hood officers were to be fired or suspended from their duties.
Hours later, the Guilléns appeared before the press. “For me, what has just been done right now is a step,” said the mother, Gloria Guillén, “but there are several missing. It’s very good, they went down and took some of them away, but no, I want jail to find out what happened to my daughter. Fort Hood is corrupt and Fort Hood is the worst. ”
The internal investigation into the assassination, conducted by a senior Pentagon official, has yet to be published. Nor has Cecily Aguilar, the only one arrested in connection with the case, gone to trial yet.
Gloria Guillén is asked for photos every time she appears in a memorial for her daughter. They smile at the camera, she doesn’t. They offer to be a spokesperson for civil organizations against sexual abuse.
They believe that she could take the fight to another level, she feels that she is just a mother who has lost “the most beloved”. Because when you don’t give empowered speeches and meet with leaders, your spirits weigh down. He has fallen ill, he has not gotten out of bed for days, he has suffered insomnia and macabre nightmares that bring Vanessa back to him but also take her away in many violent ways.
She would like to stop being Gloria Guillén. Just go back to being just Gloria or ma . When her great mission was to raise her six children and when she learned to read and write by helping Vanessa do her homework. His eldest daughter, who is now everywhere, but nowhere.
The Great Writer and The Passionate Poet As Well, He Graduated from University Of Florida in Journalism and Brad have around 12 years of experience in news and media section.