The consequences of late visibility in the disappearance of Vanessa Guillén
The main suspect tied to Guillén’s disappearance died by suicide early Wednesday morning, depriving Guillén’s family of the fullest extent of justice.
Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was last seen months ago. Now her family grieves a lost daughter, big sister, a soldier, and is left without answers.
Guillen was last seen on April 22. Five days later, a $15,000 reward was offered for information on her disappearance. It was later made known that Guillen had been sexually harassed by a sergeant, but was too afraid to report the incident.
Reportedly, the now-suspect walked in on her in the shower and sat down to watch.
During the investigation, Vanessa’s sister met with Fort Hood officials on her disappearance. She said the sergeant later identified as the suspect in Vanessa’s disappearance was one of the officials in the meeting and had, “laughed in her face.”
During this time, Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance went viral on social media with the hashtag #FindVanessaGuillen, mounting pressure on investigators, attorneys, and the Army, who increased the reward to $25,000.
It wasn’t until June 23– two full months after Vanessa’s disappearance– that the Army said it suspected foul play.
Then, on June 30, partial human remains discovered in a shallow grave just 30 miles away from Fort Hood are said to likely belong to Guillen, prompting officials to call-off the search.
The main suspect tied to Guillen’s disappearance remains unnamed, and has escaped prosecution through suicide, depriving Guillen’s family of the fullest extent of justice.
The suspect killed himself as officers moved to arrest him. A second suspect – a woman civilian– has also been taken into custody in connection, but police have not clarified why. The Army, however, described the woman as the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier.
Seventy-one days is far too long for just a semblance of justice to be delivered to Vanessa’s family. How would this have played out had Vanessa Guillen not been afraid to report her harasser, had Military authorities handled the situation sooner before social media amplified her family’s cause?
This is not to say that Guillen would be here today had the world taken notice of her disappearance sooner. But her family would have had answers.
The lack of action prevalent in Guillen’s case is reminiscent of the case of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT who was killed in her own home by Louisville police serving a no-knock warrant. Taylor’s case also took months to garner response.
Their cases lack the immediacy of attention George Floyd’s case generated, signaling a myriad of factors in play that led to delayed information, lies, loopholes, and delayed justice – if any– within the military and law enforcement.
Both Vanessa Guillen and Breonna Taylor served their communities, and both women were murdered at the hands of men who supposedly vowed to protect and serve.
It is at least one person who is responsible for Vanessa’s death, but rape culture and lack of accountability within the military industrial complex is responsible, too. For instance, the military is an institution where sexual abuse is only reported internally, and investigations are often conducted by the Department of Defense.
“We believe that the person that killed her is that person that sexually harassed her,” said Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam.
“We will never know what happened, ever, until we get a congressional investigation because everything we were given was lies, it was evasive, they were not sincere, actually very disingenuous to us. I don’t know who’s covering up for who, but it doesn’t matter. We lost a life. We lost a beautiful young soldier. And it’s time we fix our system.”
“‘Sexual harassment is not criminal,’ that’s what we were told,” continued Khawam. “Well guess what? We have a dead person because of sexual harassment. It is criminal. We want legislation. We need legislation so this never happens again.”
An officer is the primary suspect in Guillen’s death.
Until the process for prosecution decision-making is taken out of the hands of commanding officers, the cultural changes needed to adequately deal with sexual assault in the military will not be dealt with.