Houston native Vanessa Guillén’s public memorial service is underway today at Cesar Chavez High School, Guillén’s alma mater. Guillén’s family and friends were joined by their fellow Houstonians to mourn the loss of the 20-year-old Army soldier, who was killed on her base at Fort Hood in April.
“Trust me when I say Vanessa has talked to me. Her smile is out of this world, trust me,” said Lupe Guillén, the late soldier’s sister, at the beginning of Friday’s service. “She’s very happy where she is next to God, next to the Virgin Mary. She’s very happy, and I want to thank her for giving me the strength, because without her, I don’t know if I would be standing today here.”
“Today, we’re here to honor, remember, respect Vanessa Guillén and her life, her beautiful soul, her beautiful face,” she continued.
Guillén’s casket was driven to the school auditorium by a horse-drawn carriage — the same one that carried George Floyd to his memorial service back in June. Prior to the service, the carriage made multiple laps around the school’s soccer field, in recognition of Guillén’s days as a soccer player during her high school years.
Guillén was reported missing on April 23, and her remains were discovered over a month later on June 30, approximately 30 miles away from Fort Hood by the Leon River near Killeen, TX.
On July 2, federal prosecutors charged Fort Hood soldier Aaron Robinson with Guillén’s murder, alleging that he killed Guillén on April 22 with a hammer before his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, helped him dispose of her body. The day before charges were formally filed, Robinson committed suicide before the authorities were able to apprehend him.
Aguilar confessed to investigators that she helped Robinson dismember Guillén’s body and bury her remains. She later pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Guillén told her family that she had been sexually harassed during her time at Fort Hood, but did not file a formal complaint with her superiors because she didn’t believe anything would come of it. According to the Houston Chronicle, Guillén told a friend that a soldier named Aaron R. had walked in on her while she was showering, and told her mother that a sergeant had been harassing her as well.
Natalie Khawam, the Guillén family’s attorney, believes that the harassment Guillén faced was connected to her murder. After Guillén’s family met with President Trump on July 30, Trump said that the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department were currently aiding Fort Hood officials in an investigation of the harassment Guillén described before her death.
In the wake of Guillén’s killing, #IAmVanessaGuillén went viral as military members used the hashtag to publicly share their experiences with sexual assault and harassment with the public. A recently proposed piece of legislation named after Guillén, which has been co-sponsored by Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia of Houston, would create a system through which members of the military could report incidents of sexual assault outside of their immediate chain of command to a third party.
On Saturday, Guillén’s family will have a private funeral service, after which Guillén’s remains will be buried at the Forest Park Lawndale Funeral home. Friday's public memorial is being streamed live online at ABC13.com