HOUSTON (CNS) — A day before slain U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s Aug. 15 funeral at a Houston Catholic church, her youngest sister said at a public memorial the day was about honoring Vanessa’s life, faith, and love of country and family.
“Today we’re here to honor, to remember, to respect Vanessa Guillen, to respect her beautiful life, her tender heart,” said Lupe Guillen. “She’s very happy where she is next to God and the Virgin Mary.”
Vanessa, 20, was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, where she disappeared from her post April 22. Human remains were found June 30 in a shallow grave by a work crew and they were positively identified as her remains July 5.
Vanessa’s family and their attorney, Natalie Khawam, said that prior to her disappearance, the young soldier confided in her mother and friends about being sexually harassed on the military base, but she had not reported it to her superiors because of fear of retaliation.
Her casket was brought to Cesar E. Chavez High School for the public memorial by horse-drawn carriage, the same carriage that carried George Floyd to his final resting spot in a Houston cemetery. Before her casket was taken into the school auditorium, the carriage took it on one final lap around the track, followed by family and friends.
In high school, Vanessa played soccer and competed in track and field and cross country. She graduated in 2018 and then enlisted in the Army.
“To some, she was a role model, someone who people admired for her hard work and dedication,” Jocelyn Sierra, a Cesar Chavez classmate, told KHOU-TV Channel 11 outside the memorial. “To others, she was a friend who they could count on for anything. … To me, she was my soul mate.”
The day after the public memorial family, friends and public officials attended her private funeral Mass at Holy Name Catholic Church.
“Even though she has tragically died young, her legacy will be long lasting,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters outside the church.
U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia also attended the funeral. She has been working with the family on the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, which would allow active-duty service members to report sexual harassment and assault to a third-party agency instead of their supervisors.
Investigators say Vanessa was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood by Spc. Aaron Robinson, who then, it is believed, took her body off the base. He killed himself July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody. His civilian girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, Texas, was arrested on charges of conspiracy and tampering with evidence in Guillen’s slaying.
Robinson and Aguilar allegedly used a machete and an ax or hatchet to dismember Guillen, who was then burned, encased in concrete and buried.
Khawam, the Guillen family attorney, along with Vanessa’s mother, Gloria, and her sisters met at the White House with President Donald Trump at his invitation July 30.
“It’s a disgrace that when you get sexually harassed, you have to report it on to your line of command, but 80% of the time, the line of command is actually sexually harassing you, so you wouldn’t have the confidence nor the trust to report it,” Guadalupe Guillen told Trump.
“That’s why Vanessa did not report it, because she was afraid of retaliation or afraid of judgment because she was ashamed of herself, even though the shame was the aggressor,” she said. “We need a positive change because our troops need to feel safe and need to feel respected because they’re the ones putting their life at risk.”
Trump told the family that the FBI, the Department of Justice “and the people at Ford Hood … are very much involved” in investigating Vanessa’s case. “We didn’t want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen,” he said.