Based on recent developments in the case of the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, one might be led to believe the investigation is over.
Not so fast, says Fort Hood and III Corps Deputy Commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt.
“The investigation is not over, and our efforts are ongoing,” he said at a news conference Thursday involving 30 news agencies.
Both the criminal investigation, as well as the sexual harassment investigation, continue.
“As an aside, the criminal investigation has not found any connection between sexual harassment and Vanessa’s disappearance,” Efflandt said.
Guillen disappeared April 22 and was last seen in the parking lot of her 3rd Cavalry Regiment headquarters. She wore a black T-shirt and purple fitness-style pants when she was last seen.
Last week, Guillen’s remains were found near the Leon River in East Bell County.
“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 Monday, 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.
Texas Rangers are the lead investigators at the Leon River site, said Damon Phelps, senior special agent for Fort Hood CID.
Army officials said the investigation into her disappearance began April 23, and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment began June 18.
The family of Guillen — her mother, Gloria Guillen, and her sisters, Lupe Guillen and Mayra Guillen — have told media she repeatedly had told them she was being sexually harassed.
In a June 23 press conference outside of Fort Hood, Mayra Guillen questioned why it took six weeks to get a sexual harassment investigation started when they had been crying out to Fort Hood about it since the beginning.
In a July 1 press conference at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Mayra Guillen said Fort Hood officials had been telling the family lies since day one.
In response to that, Efflandt said Thursday, “Our contact with the family (has) never involved false information. And I am really sorry that I was not able to provide them information sufficient to reduce their suffering. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. What I was able to share was tempered by my responsibility to protect the integrity of the investigation, so that we could A) find Vanessa, B) prosecute those responsible for this travesty and in the end, be in position to punish them.”
Phelps said, “I will add that since the beginning of the investigation, we have kept in constant contact with the family. Clearly, there’s some information we cannot release to maintain the integrity of the investigation, and of course, as I’ve mentioned before, we have been completely transparent with the family and have recently provided a full investigative brief.”
During the Thursday press conference, Phelps refuted multiple rumors that had been circulating throughout the media.
The first rumor he refuted involved the number of suspects there were in the case.
“To date, our investigation has identified two suspects in the connection with Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance,” Phelps said. “We are aware that there have been statements made that there are others. But, at this point, that is incorrect.”
Many other soldier’s names had surfaced on social media as being connected in the case, Phelps said.
The Guillen family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, also told media at the family’s press conference in Washington, D.C., that there were three suspects — two who were in custody and one who had committed suicide.
One of the suspects, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, took his life early July 1 in front of Killeen Police when he was confronted in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue in Killeen.
Phelps said Robinson had fled Fort Hood on June 30, and Killeen Police Department, U.S. Marshals and the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force joined in the search for him.
“I can tell you that he was not in CID custody at the time,” Phelps said of Robinson’s ability to flee Fort Hood.
During Thursday’s press conference, Phelps confirmed that a civilian suspect — later identified as Killeen resident Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, by civilian authorities — had been arrested in connection with the case.
Aguilar was accused of conspiracy to tamper with evidence in the case, according to a news release late Thursday from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.
“Robinson told Aguilar that he killed a female soldier by striking her in the head with a hammer while on Fort Hood on April 22, 2020. Robinson further admitted to Aguilar that he transferred the woman’s body off of Fort Hood to a remote site in Bell County,” the release said. “Subsequently, Robinson enlisted the help of Aguilar in disposing of the dead female’s body. The complaint further alleges that at a later time Aguilar recognized the deceased, whom she helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of, as Vanessa Guillen.”
As of Saturday, Aguilar was being held in the McLennan County Jail, according to the county’s jail roster. The roster does not specify the day she was booked.
The other rumor Phelps refuted was that Robinson was Guillen’s supervisor.
“This is false,” Phelps said. “Robinson was an armorer who worked in a building adjacent to the building where Spc. Guillen worked. And he was in no way ... in her chain of command.”
Robinson and Guillen were assigned to different units.
Efflandt and Phelps said Guillen’s unit was conducting an investigation into any sexual harassment of Guillen, but has not uncovered any credible evidence she was sexually harassed.
Efflandt said he requested the Army Inspector General to conduct an inspection of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program at Fort Hood.
The intent of the inspection, according to Efflandt, is to, “A, examine the SHARP program implementation at Fort Hood; B, assess whether the command climate is supportive of soldiers reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault at Fort Hood; and C, to identify any potential systemic, big issues with the SHARP program at Fort Hood, as well as any resource complaints.”
He said the purpose for requesting the inspection is to provide transparency.
Guillen was promoted to specialist, effective July 1.