A military officer who died by suicide after being confronted about his involvement in Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance allegedly walked in on her showering, her family’s lawyer said Wednesday.
The incident is one of two alleged instances of sexual harassment Guillen, a 20-year-old Private First Class stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, experienced at the hands of her superiors before she went missing from the base’s parking lot in April, Natalie Khawam, an attorney for the Guillen family, said at a Wednesday press conference.
On Tuesday evening, authorities believe they located Guillen’s body, after finding partial remains in a shallow grave near Leon River. The remains are currently being identified by a medical examiner.
Now her family is demanding a congressional investigation into the military’s handling of Guillen’s case, alleging the probe has been riddled with “lies.”
“They lied to our faces every single day that passed for more than two months. My sister was sexually harassed and no one cared,” Lupe Guillen, the soldier’s younger sister, said at a Wednesday press conference. “My sister is a human too. If this can happen to my sister it can happen to anyone else. She deserves justice!”
“I want Fort Hood Army base to shut down... They’re protecting one another,” she added.
While details of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command’s probe remain under wraps, military officials revealed that a suspect involved in the case died by suicide on Tuesday after being confronted by officers about his involvement in the case.
The suspect, who has not been identified, was a “junior soldier from Fort Hood who fled the post” shortly after human remains were found about 20 minutes away from where Guillen was last seen. The Army added that authorities also apprehended another suspect in Guillen’s disappearance—a female civilian who is the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier. The identified woman is currently in custody at Bell County Jail awaiting charges.
“We have made significant progress in this tragic situation and are doing everything possible to get to the truth and bring answers to the family of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen,” Chris Grey, the spokesman for Army’s criminal investigative organization, said Wednesday.
During a Wednesday press conference with Guillen’s family members and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Khawam slammed Fort Hood and Army investigators for being “evasive” and accused them of covering up for two other suspects that are currently in custody.
“They falsely accounted for her at 3 p.m. the day she disappeared,” said Khawam. “What is the cover-up for? She was a soldier. Why aren’t they transparent with the family? This was mishandled from the start. It has to be investigated.”
The lawyer added that the suspect, who authorities said died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, worked with Guillen the day she vanished. Mayra Guillen, the 20-year-old’s other sister, also revealed Wednesday that she had spoken to that same suspect—claiming he was dismissive and “laugh[ed] at my face” when she went to the military base to ask about the ongoing investigation.
“That subject, I met him, not knowing he had something to do with it. I felt he had something to do with it, and I wasn't wrong,” Mayra Guillen said. “He had the nerve to laugh in my face and apparently now he kills himself. Why? I don't know, but whoever is responsible has to pay.”
Authorities say Guillen was last seen on April 22 at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron headquarters. Her family reported her missing hours later when she stopped answering their calls and friends could not find her on the base. Officials later found “her car keys, barracks room key, identification card, and wallet” in the armory room where she had been working earlier in the day.
Before Guillen went missing, Khawam said Guillen told family members, friends, and colleagues she had been sexually harassed by her superiors on two separate occasions. The family said Wednesday Guillen’s sexual harassment allegations led the military base to “cover-up” her initial disappearance.
“We need a congressional investigation as soon as possible. They lied to us since day one, Fort Hood. They’re hiding,” Mayra Guillen said.
For months, the Guillen family pressed the Army and lawmakers to pay attention to the case, holding several rallies and garnering the support of community groups. Once the search received national attention, the family launched the “Find Vanessa Guillen” campaign. Several activists and celebrities ultimately joined the effort to find answers about the soldier’s disappearance.
“Bring back Vanessa… We won’t stop until you come back,” actress Salma Hayek wrote on Instagram last month.
Fort Hood officials stated that since April, hundreds of soldiers have been deployed on a daily basis to search for Guillen in and around Fort Hood, as well as drones, helicopters, and dogs.
On June 18, the military also launched an investigation into the sexual harassment claims but later said in a statement they found no credible evidence Guillen was assaulted.
Days later, the investigators said they suspected “foul play” was involved in the case—but Khawam said developments in the case have not been relayed to the 20-year-old’s family.
“Imagine you lose your daughter and you’re finding out information from the media? The command doesn’t feel they owe this family anything. They’re savages! They’re dishonorable,” Khawam said, adding that she plans to ask lawmakers to propose legislation to protect U.S. soldiers from sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Tim Miller, director and founder of Texas EquuSearch, a non-profit that assists in missing-person searches, told The Washington Post the breakthrough in the case hinged on witness accounts.
According to Miller, a man was seen struggling with a heavy-duty Pelican transport case shortly after Guillen disappeared. A lid for a similar case was found burned in a mound search on June 20—and her remains were later found just a few feet away by Texas Rangers and cadaver dogs. Miller told the Post that concrete had been poured at the site and recent rainstorms had allowed the shallow grave where the remains were found to settle into the ground.
On Tuesday, Miller said, a group of men building a fence nearby noticed a terrible smell and walked over to the gravesite—where they saw hair coming out of the ground. He added that in the nearly two decades he had helped authorities recover nearly 240 sets of remains, he has never seen the level of sophistication that was used at the Leon River site.
“This should never have happened and we will never know what happened until we get a congressional investigation because everything we were given was lies,” Khawam added on Wednesday. “We don’t know who's covering up for who, but it doesn’t matter. We lost a life. We lost a beautiful young soldier and it's time we fix our system.”