Military confirms remains as Vanessa Guillen's; politicians call for watchdog probe

6 months ago 22
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July 7 (UPI) -- Human remains found last week in Texas belong to missing U.S. soldier Vanessa Guillen, military officials confirmed as politicians demanded the Pentagon watchdog launch an independent investigation into the woman's death while calling for military reforms.

Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt told reporters during a press conference Monday the Armed Forces forensic examiner has determined through DNA analysis that human remains found Tuesday near the Leon River in Bell County belong to Guillen, who was reported missing from the nearby Fort Hood military base mid-April.

"There are no words that convey the sense of loss to her family, her friends and her fellow soldiers that I feel during this tremulously difficult time," he said. "We all feel her loss, the loss of a vibrant young woman who bravely volunteered to serve her country, the loss of a talented soldier, the loss of a loving family member and the loss of a friend with a bright future ahead of her."

The announcement came after Natalie Khawam, the attorney for the Guillen family, said Sunday evening that the Army had confirmed to her on Friday that the bones, hair and other remains found near the base belonged to Guillen.

Efflandt said Guillen's family was notified Sunday and that the Army will assist the U.S. district attorney in its investigation and that it will complete its own sexual harassment investigation connected to Guillen's death and disappearance.

"Every person who raises their right hand to serve their family and their country in uniform deserves to be safe and treated with dignity and respect," he said.

Guillen, 20, was last seen April 22 in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters at Fort Hood, and was reported missing the next day, prompting a search that led to the discovery of her remains last week.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command identified Spc. Aaron David Robinson as a suspect in the case who died by suicide Wednesday while law enforcement attempted to make contact with him.

A second suspect, 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, has been arrested on accusations she helped Robinson, her boyfriend, to dismember Guillen's body and then bury it in three different locations.

The affidavit states Robinson bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer on April 22 in the armory where she worked before contacting Aguilar to help dispose of the body.

Guillen's family has said that Robinson had sexually harassed Guillen but she was afraid to issue a formal complaint.

Eighty-seven congressmen on Monday signed a letter dated Monday by Rep. Sylvia Garcia supporting Rep. Jackie Speier and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's call for the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office to conduct "a full and independent investigation" into Guillen's disappearance and death.

"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 personal safety," Garcia wrote in the letter. "The U.S. military has a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the young women and men that take an oath to defend our country. In Spc. Guillen's case, she was tragically failed by the Army."

According to a Pentagon report published in late April, reports of sexual assault increased by 3 percent in 2019 compared to the year prior for a total of 7,825 complaints.

Garcia described sexual violence in the military as an "epidemic" that disproportionately impacts women of color who are less likely to report assaults out of fear of retaliation.

Texas Reps. Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela also issued a joint statement on Monday in support of an inspector general investigation, stating the military is "incapable of policing" itself while urging for civilian reform of the military.

"It is time to demand civilian oversight, accountability and reform," Gonzalez said. "The family of Spc. Vanessa Guillen and all who are affected by these tragic events deserve more than our thoughts and prayers -- they deserve action and answers."

Aguilar also made her initial appearance in court on Monday for charges of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

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