WASHINGTON – The family of soldier Vanessa Guillen, murdered three months ago on a US Army base in Texas, met on Thursday with President Donald Trump and members of Congress to seek support for a law that would allow service members to report sexual harassment to agency outside the military chain of command.
Guillen, 20, went missing April 22 and her mutilated remains were found at the end of June in the Leon River, near Fort Hood.
“That is not a base, it’s a cemetery,” Gloria Guillen, the slain soldier’s mother, told a press conference outside the Capitol before heading to the White House.
“On that base, they kill, kidnap, rape and murder,” she said of the Army installation roughly 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Austin that houses 36,500 soldiers.
Fort Hood has witnessed 23 deaths this year, including seven suicides and four homicides, according to officials.
Investigators believe that Spc. Guillen was killed on base by another soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, who took his own life on June 30 while being questioned about the case by civilian law enforcement.
Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, is accused of helping him chop up Guillen’s body and dumping it at a spot about 20 miles from Fort Hood.
“It’s a terrible story,” Trump told Vanessa Guillen’s parents and sisters in the Oval Office. “So we’re going to look into it very powerfully. We already have started, as you know, and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa.”
Assuring them that Vanessa’s death won’t be “swept under the rug,” the president also offered the family financial assistance with the cost of the funeral.
“This has to stop,” 16-year-old Lupe Guillen said earlier Thursday. “Fort Hood should be held accountable. Their leadership has to be held accountable. They signed to protect and respect every soldier, but they didn’t protect my sister, they didn’t respect my sister.”
In the months prior to her death, Vanessa Guillen told her family about being sexually harassed by a superior, but did not file an official complaint.
“My sister didn’t report it. Why? Because she was afraid to. She was afraid of retaliation,” Lupe said, calling on Congress to pass the #IamVanessaGuillen bill.
The Guillen family’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, took part in drafting the legislation, which is sponsored by Reps. Markwayne Mullin, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat who serves as a major in the Army National Guard.
The bill would make it possible for military personnel to report sexual harassment to an outside agency.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, held a hearing Wednesday on sexual harassment throughout the Department of Defense and said that she is working on a bill to reform prosecution of sexual assault cases in the military.
The #IamVanessaGuillen legislation “will save lives,” Khawam said. “When someone volunteers to serve our country, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by their fellow service members. This bill will help us provide the protection and respect to others that was denied to Vanessa.”
In an announcement coinciding with the Guillen family’s visit to Washington, the Army named a panel of five independent lawyers to investigate conditions at Fort Hood.
The committee will be led by Chris Swecker, a former assistant director of the FBI.
“The Army is committed to taking care of our soldiers, civilians, families and soldiers for life, and this independent review will explore the current command climate and culture at Fort Hood,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said.