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‘A lack of responsibility’: How Vanessa Guillén’s killer fled a guard before taking his own life

Supporters of the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén march to the White House along the National Mall in July 2020. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

A report will detail a chain of missteps that allowed the suspected killer of a fellow soldier to flee an unarmed guard before fatally shooting himself last year, in a case that rocked Fort Hood in Texas and sparked calls for systemic changes in how the Army cares for soldiers.

Four pages of the report, obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its Friday public release, offer a previously unreported glimpse into how Spc. Aaron Robinson slipped away on June 30, despite leaders putting him under observation more than two months after the disappearance of Spc. Vanessa Guillén.

Guillén’s killing on Fort Hood last April, and her family’s allegations that she feared surfacing sexual harassment in her unit, ignited proposed legislation to transform how military sexual crimes are investigated. One bill is named after Guillén.

The Guillén family has criticized the Army for what it describes as shifting explanations throughout the investigation, including details in the documents they said conflict with what investigators have told them. The Army failed them and a chance at justice by allowing Robinson to escape, they have said.

“This clearly demonstrates a lack of responsibility and how there’s no trust between the military, its soldiers and its citizens,” said Lupe Guillén, Vanessa’s youngest sister, who urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would take investigation of sex crimes out of the hands of commanders.

They believe Robinson may have tried to assault her and bludgeoned her in an arms room to cover it up. The Army has said it does not have evidence linking Robinson to harassment or assault against Guillén.

The documents obtained by The Post do not say where Robinson got the gun he used to shoot himself or if the Army found negligence among commanders who failed to keep Robinson under guard. The larger report, led by Gen. John Murray, the commander of Army Futures Command, will focus on actions taken by Guillén’s chain of command amid her disappearance and murder.

About 5 p.m. on June 30, hours after workers discovered the buried remains of Guillén outside the installation, an Army criminal investigator called an enlisted leader in Robinson’s unit and requested he be put under strict observation for 24 hours.

Robinson was already a person of interest, Army officials said, and investigators were looking to draw out incriminating statements after they arrested his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar. Cellphone data showed them together on the night Guillén disappeared, lingering where Guillén’s remains were eventually found, investigators said in a criminal complaint. Aguilar confessed to helping Robinson bury the remains, investigators said.

Authorities were monitoring calls and texts between Robinson and Aguilar while he was under watch. Simultaneously, police were building probable cause and coordinating with prosecutors on how they would arrest him, Army officials said.

Robinson’s leaders developed a ruse. He was already under quarantine because a colleague was infected with the coronavirus, so they told him he was to be guarded because he violated quarantine protocols.

He was restricted to a conference room with one entry point, and he would sleep there, the report said, under the watch of a noncommissioned officer on rotating shifts and another supervisor who regularly looked into the room.

The guard was unarmed and Robinson kept his cellphone, which he used all night, the report said.

A senior enlisted leader left after an hour and did not brief an incoming guard about the situation, leaving that duty to a junior leader, the report said.

Commanders appeared concerned Robinson would learn he was a murder suspect and try to flee. One officer said in a text chain for unit leaders that the guard must “tackle his ass and call the MPs” if Robinson ran away.

But the soldier guarding Robinson at that moment was not on the text chain, the report said, and it is unclear whether all the soldiers involved understood he was suspected of murder.

Two minutes after the text, at 10:02 p.m., Robinson appeared to call his mother and said, “Don’t believe what you hear about me,” a soldier recounted, and whispered into the phone during another call. He then stood by the door and leaned on it until he was ordered by the guard to sit.

Robinson ran out of the room at about 10:05 p.m. and was briefly pursued by the guard. Military police arrived two minutes later.

On a call with Aguilar, Robinson panicked and texted photos of news stories describing discovery of Guillén’s remains. “Baby, they found pieces,” he told Aguilar.

Aguilar helped police in the hunt for Robinson after he entered the nearby city of Killeen. Then, after 1 a.m., Robinson produced a gun after he was confronted by police officers.

Robinson fatally shot himself four miles east of an entrance gate to Fort Hood. That gate was renamed after Guillén this month.

The secretary of the Army in December fired and suspended 14 Fort Hood leaders in Guillén’s chain of command after an independent civilian panel found systemic leadership problems at the installation, including inexperienced criminal investigators.

Read more:

Pentagon leaders have opposed plans overhauling the military system for trying sexual assault for years. Has the time come for change?

‘The military’s #MeToo’: Vanessa Guillén’s slaying has many servicewomen revisiting their own deep scars