During an emotional message to the greater Fort Hood community, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, confirmed the identification of remains found near Little River Academy as Spc. Vanessa Guillen, while addressing media members Monday in front of III Corps Headquarters.
“Sadly, I stand here to report that the search for Spc. Vanessa Guillen has resulted in the very outcome that I had prayed it would not have from the very beginning,” Efflandt said, expressing his condolences to her family and friends. “While searching for Vanessa, we had continued to investigate the circumstances that led to her disappearance. Each action was taken with a deliberate hope that we would find her alive and unharmed, and be able to return her to her family and friends.”
Fort Hood officials waited until positive identification was made through forensic testing before they concluded a two-month-long search for the missing 20-year-old Soldier and officially notified the next of kin, in accordance with Army Regulation 638-2.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s family, her friends and fellow Soldiers as we grieve together in this tragedy,” Col. Ralph Overland, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and Guillen’s regimental commander, said. “Our loss of Vanessa Guillen has devastated us all and left a hole in our formation. Her fellow troopers in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment and units across Fort Hood remained concerned and committed to recovering Vanessa since the day she disappeared. Thousands have searched, dedicated to finding our Soldier because we never quit and we never leave a fallen comrade.”
On the morning of April 22, Guillen was working in her unit’s arms room and was last seen at approximately 11:30 a.m. in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron, 3rd Cav. Regt. After her unit could not find her that same day, they conducted a search and discovered her car keys, barracks room key and identification card in the arms room.
“On that day, her unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, initiated a search for Vanessa and since that day, has maintained communication with the family,” Efflandt told the press on July 2. “The day following, the 23rd of April, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, referred to as CID, initiated an investigation in conjunction with national, state and local law enforcement agencies.”
Soldiers within the regiment searched daily for Guillen throughout Fort Hood’s more than 214,000-acre land – in buildings, barracks, fields, training areas, lakes and trails. After notification by her unit, CID initiated an investigation on April 23 and led search teams throughout the installation, including the live-fire ranges.
Special Agent Damon Phelps, senior special agent of Fort Hood CID, revealed that since the investigation began, agents conducted more than 300 interviews, more than 10,000 investigative hours and have been working very closely with numerous agencies. Outside agencies include the FBI, Killeen Police Department, Belton Police Department, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals and the Texas Department of Public Safety, among others.
The young Soldier’s story gripped the nation, as her family spoke out, begging people to come forward with information about what happened to their daughter, sister and friend … trying to make sense of what happened. Although CID maintained contact with the family throughout the investigation, they could not reveal any details that could compromise the ongoing investigation and future prosecution of those involved.
Guillen’s remains were found near the Leon River, between Belton and Little River Academy on June 30. A July 2 affidavit released to the public by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office – Western District of Texas, said Guillen’s dismembered remains were found by contractors working on a fence adjacent to the Leon River in Bell County.
“Our investigation has identified two suspects in the connection with Spc. Guillen’s disappearance,” Phelps revealed. “We are aware that there have been statements made that there are others, but at this point, that is incorrect. We have identified two suspects.”
Suspects included Spc. Aaron David Robinson and Cecily Ann Aguilar. Aguilar has been arrested in conjunction with the case and charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Robinson, a Fort Hood Soldier assigned to 3rd Cav. Regt., committed suicide in Killeen when confronted by police officers during the early hours of July 1.
“As law enforcement agents attempted to make contact with the suspect in Killeen, Texas, Spc. Robinson reportedly displayed a weapon and took his own life,” Phelps said during the press conference July 2. “Robinson was an armorer who worked in the building adjacent to the building where Spc. Guillen worked and he was in no way in Spc. Guillen’s chain of command.”
The general said as the Army tries to make sense of what happened, they will honor Guillen’s memory by assisting the U.S. District Attorney – Western Division, as they take lead on the investigation and prosecution of those involved in her murder.
“We’re now confronted with the aftermath of one of the most heinous acts I can imagine,” Efflandt said. “There are no words that convey the sense of loss to her family, her friends and her fellow Soldiers and I feel during this tremendously difficult time. 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.”
He said Fort Hood will continue to investigate the allegations of sexual harassment Guillen may have faced before her death. Although there were no sexual harassment reports made by Guillen herself, 3rd Cav. Regt. ordered a full investigation into sexual harassment allegations that had come forward following Guillen’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Efflandt revealed that in light of the allegations, he requested an inspection of Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program from the U.S. Army Forces Command Inspector General. He vowed to identify and address any shortcomings noted by the inspection team.
“Please know that every person who raises their right hand and chooses to serve their family and country in uniform deserves to be safe, and to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “To the victims of sexual harassment and assault: We hear you, we believe you and I encourage you to come forward.”
The general said the Army will not stop its efforts to eradicate sexual harassment and sexual assault, until it no longer exists in formations. While it may take time, he said it will all come in due course.
“Right here, right now at this moment, it’s about Vanessa Guillen,” Efflandt said in conclusion during his condolence message Monday. “It’s about what she stood for. It’s about what she meant to us.”
Before concluding his own remarks, Overland said the Brave Rifles of the 3rd Cav. Regt. will honor Guillen, her service to the country and will care for the Guillen family during this difficult time. He said nothing is more vital than a Soldier’s covenant to be there for the family of a fallen Soldier.
“When we learned of Vanessa’s death, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment was dedicated to ensuring the Guillen family was informed in the most dignified and respectful manner,” Overland added. “As we move forward, we will remain steadfast in our care, compassion, and assistance to the Guillen family with the utmost dignity and respect. We honor Spc. Vanessa Guillen and her service to our country. We will never forget her. We keep Vanessa Guillen in our hearts and the Guillen family in our thoughts and prayers.”
Persons with additional information regarding this case can contact Army CID at 254-287-2722 or the military police at 254-288-1170.