Two of Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s sisters cried and embraced one another as they revealed their late sister’s face displayed on a new memorial at one of Fort Hood’s main gates.
Lt. Gen. Pat White, commanding general of the Central Texas military installation, greeted the Guillen family as they arrived back to Fort Hood on Monday to unveil the “I Am Vanessa Guillen Gate” during a short ceremony.
It was just steps away from that same gate last year where Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s family protested as they demanded that Fort Hood leaders to do more to find the 20-year-old, whom they first reported missing on April 22.
“We’re not going to forget Vanessa,” White said during the ceremony Monday. “Her legacy is going to live on through this monument.”
Fort Hood leaders announced last year that the gate — where Spc. Vanessa Guillen entered for work in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood each day — would be named in her honor.
Authorities suspect a fellow Fort Hood soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, beat Guillen to death with a hammer on post the morning of April 22, 2020. Robinson fatally shot himself July 1 as authorities tried to question him after Guillen’s remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County just hours before, according to Killeen police.
Guillen’s family members maintained she was sexually harassed by Robinson and others before her death, but the Army has yet to release any finding that could substantiate those accusations.
Lupe Guillen, Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s youngest sister and who, at just 16 years old, held national press conferences to demand congressional intervention for her sister’s case, said that standing at the gate was extremely emotional moment for her.
Lupe said that as she pulled up to Fort Hood Monday, she looked out and saw the intersection where she and her toddler brother held signs and shouted her sister’s name during protests last year.
She said many people have shared both negative and positive feelings about Fort Hood’s decision to name the gate after her sister, and she understood both sides. However, she does hope the gate brings more awareness to the issues of sexual assault and harassment in the military, again urging people to push for the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, which reforms how sexual misconduct cases are handled, to be signed into law.
“The negative side is that my sister was murdered here at Fort Hood,” Lupe Guillen said, adding that she wished people would have cared about Vanessa before she was killed, not only afterward.
“The positive side of this gate is to remember her name and to remind and reflect about what happened on April 22,” she continued. “About the victims both men and women who are victims of sexual violence. To not stay in silence, to not be afraid to report it, but to simply speak up because my sister couldn’t speak up.”
On Tuesday, the Guillen family will travel to Austin, where state legislators want to name a stretch of Texas 3 in Harris County the Vanessa Guillen Memorial Highway and make Sept. 30 “Vanessa Guillen Day” for the whole state.
On Wednesday, the family will host a virtual “Run for Vanessa Guillen” event, where individuals are asked to wear a T-shirt representing the soldier and run a 5-kilometer race in her honor. Those who participate can share a photo online using the hashtag #runforvanessaguillen.
The Guillens on Thursday will then travel to Washington, D.C., to introduce the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act alongside U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act seeks to allow parties outside a soldier’s direct chain of command to investigate claims of sexual misconduct in the military.
On Thursday night, Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s family will attend a candlelight vigil at a mural of the late soldier in the nation’s capital to commemorate the anniversary of her death.
Similar vigils will take place all over the nation, including Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Killeen and Fort Worth.
(c) 2021 Austin American-Statesman
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