FORT HOOD — Near the Bernie Beck Gate on the U.S. Army base Friday morning, national and local representatives with the League of United Latin American Citizens demanded a full investigation into the death of Pvt. Ana Basaldua Ruiz.
“This morning at 8 a.m., LULAC sent a letter formally requesting that FBI Director Christopher Wray consider opening the case on the death of Army Pvt Ana Basaldua Ruiz,” said David Cruz, LULAC’s national communications director, during the news conference. “The request has two parts. One is that (the investigation) be conducted outside of the structure of the Army as required under the Vanessa Guillen Act, which was signed into law by President Biden after bipartisan passage in December 2021. The second part is that we’re asking Director Ray to consider authorizing gathering of all evidence that is brought forth by CID or any military entity so that the FBI can identify, assess and evaluate what that evidence really means.”
Basaldua Ruiz, 20, a combat engineer who served with the 1st Cavalry Division for the last 15 months, died on Monday on base, according to Fort Hood officials. The Army Criminal Investigation Division and the chain of command are investigating her death, but Fort Hood has ruled out foul play.
“No foul play is evident,” Fort Hood officials said in a Thursday release. “Information related to any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully.”
“It would be irresponsible of LULAC not to address a comment made by the Army in the last 24 hours,” Cruz said. “For the Army to say no foul play presumes facts that have not yet been brought forward. For the Army to say no foul play would also indicate a tone deafness to the concerns of the father and the mother of (Basaldua Ruiz), who stated that she had been the target of alleged sexual harassment — repeated and consistent sexual harassment by other service members, up to and including an immediate superior to whom she reported.”
Basaldua Ruiz’s parents spoke to Hispanic news network Noticias Telemundo on Wednesday. According to the network, the parents said their daughter was found dead inside a maintenance bay at Fort Hood and post officials told them her death was being investigated as a suicide.
Fort Hood has not specified the nature of her death or where she died, but in a LULAC news release, Cruz said that Basaldua Ruiz was found dead in her quarters on Monday.
From Long Beach, California, she entered the Army in July 2021 and was assigned to 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Complaints of harassment
Her parents told Telemundo that Basaldua Ruiz said she was “no longer comfortable” and that she was being sexually harassed, according to a translation of the story originally published in Spanish. Telemundo also reported that military officials had not confirmed the harassment allegations.
“LULAC wants those facts looked into, those statements reviewed, the parties who were involved ... spoken to and we want it done by an outside entity,” Cruz said.
On Thursday, Fort Hood officials said that “information related to any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully.”
Basaldua Ruiz’s death has invoked the memories of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was brutally murdered at Fort Hood in 2020.
“We were here for Vanessa,” said Analuisa Tapia, a Killeen resident and LULAC district director. “We would have wanted it to be the last time. However, here we are once more. LULAC sends its deepest condolences to the (family). Words cannot express our sadness and our concerns over the passing over Pvt. Ana Basaldua. LULAC demands an immediate full and transparent investigation into these (harassment) claims. This investigation needs to start now and must be by an outside authority.”
‘How many more?’
Guillen’s sister, Mayra Guillen, the sister of the Spc. Vanessa Guillen, posted on Twitter on Thursday about Ruiz’s death.
“SEXUAL HARASSMENT & SEXUAL ASSAULT ARE NOT INCIDENT TO SERVICE. ENOUGH. VANESSA did not sign up to be SA,SH. ANA did not sign up to be tormented with SH. When will it be enough??? How many MORE? #JusticeforVanessaGuillen #JusticeforAnaBasaldua.”
Col. Christopher Demspey, commander of 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, called the “loss of any one of our soldiers (a) tragedy.”
“And it is no different in the death of Pvt Ana Basaldua Ruiz,” he said. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of Ana. We have remained in constant contact with both parents of Pvt. Basaldua Ruiz and will continue to keep them updated.”
Parts of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act that changed the way the military handles sexual harassment claims were included in the National Defense Authorization Act signed by Biden in December 2021. The bill was spurred by public outcries from Guillen’s family, who said she was also sexually harassed before her death.
Among other provisions, with the passage of Biden’s NDAA in 2021, sexual harassment is now criminalized under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and unit commanders are immediately required to open independent investigations after receiving sexual harassment complaints.
“If criminal activity is found, we demand those responsible are brought to justice and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Tapia said. “LULAC is calling for a meeting with U.S. Army leadership at the Pentagon and for a full accountability of the top down. LULAC will not rest until there is justice.”
In a news release, Rodolfo Rosales Jr., state director for Texas LULAC, said the Army “cannot defend the indefensible.”
“If Pvt. Basaldua Ruiz was telling her parents she was being sexually harassed, was base command being informed and what was being done about it?” he said. “If command is not being told, why not and how can that communication be improved? Again, our community is paying the price, and we cannot support sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way when the Army has had three years to clean up its act.”
LULAC is the nation’s largest and oldest Hispanic civil-rights volunteer-based organization “that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities.” Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C., with 1,000 councils across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, including chapters in Killeen and Temple.