Guillén, 20, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in an arms room on the Texas installation by a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, on April 22, 2020. He dismembered and buried her remains with the help of a girlfriend, investigators have said. The remains were discovered June 30 as investigators zeroed in on Robinson as a suspect.
Robinson was put under guard but fled, obtained a firearm and died by suicide, investigators said.
“It was devastating to all of us,” said Maj. Gen. Gene LeBoeuf, who summarized the report on a call with reporters. “We as an Army failed to protect Vanessa Guillén.”
The Guillén family, which said the Army’s response throughout the ordeal has lacked urgency and empathy, was frustrated by the information released, family attorney Natalie Khawam said.
“We found many inconsistencies in this report,” said Khawam, who took on the case pro bono last year. “Vanessa’s case was severely mishandled, and therefore this report reflects a lot of damage control.”
The report Friday confirmed some of the family’s earliest fears and pleas for the Army to answer: that Guillén faced sexual harassment on the job. Guillén had confided that she was afraid to press the issue with her chain of command, they have said.
For nearly a year Army officials have said they had no evidence Guillén faced sexual harassment, often denying the family’s specific allegations that Robinson was the culprit while refusing to address if there were other potential abusers.
The report revealed two incidents in 2019 that disturbed Guillén. She didn’t officially report them because she feared retaliation. In one incident, a supervisor who was consistently hostile toward her made sexual remarks to her in Spanish.
It visibly dismayed her so much, the report found, that another supervisor asked what was bothering her. She told the supervisor about the harassment and recounted it for other soldiers, some of whom then reported it to unit leadership, which did not address the problem.
“They knew of the aggressive and counterproductive leadership but took no action,” the report said of her leaders.
The soldier who harassed her was not Robinson, but Robinson did sexually harass another woman, investigators concluded.
Guillén’s death at 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 new report, and a complementary review in December, found a permissive environment for sexual assault and harassment throughout the installation and within Guillén’s unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
Her killing also transformed the way the Army considers and looks for missing soldiers. Guillén was declared absent without leave, or AWOL, until the day her remains were discovered despite it being clear her disappearance was not voluntary, the report said. The designation was a matter of policy and didn’t affect the search effort, which the Army concluded was done well despite the family’s criticisms, according to the report.
“However, the Army’s policy requiring an AWOL duty status sent the wrong message, creating an inaccurate perception that she had voluntarily abandoned her unit and limiting the command’s access to certain resources, such as casualty assistance officer to liaise with the family,” the report found.
The Army has since changed the policy to bring more urgency to finding soldiers and declaring them missing rather than absent, the report said, an attempt to remove the ambiguity of the status and the stigma of the AWOL label, which often implied that a soldier was unprofessional if they did not show up for work.
The report included details of how Robinson evaded an unarmed guard and fled, acquired a gun and died by suicide hours later before he could be arrested.
The details, first published by The Washington Post ahead of the report’s release, highlighted missteps among senior leaders who planned a 24-hour watch as law enforcement gathered enough evidence to formally arrest and charge him.
Robinson was told he was being watched because of coronavirus restriction violations while investigators, aided by his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, waited for him to incriminate himself by call or text.
One officer ordered on a group text that if Robinson fled he should be tackled, but the soldier assigned to watch his every move was not on the text chain. It is not clear from the report if every soldier involved understood the gravity of the mission to secure him.
Robinson fled minutes after the text, and his death was a subversion of justice the Army allowed to happen, the Guillén family has said.
The report sidestepped questions about the competency of criminal investigators in their pursuit of Robinson, and if mistakes aided Robinson’s evasion and escape.
On May 18, Robinson’s phone showed multiple calls to Aguilar the night of Guillén’s disappearance. By then, investigators already knew Robinson was observed loading a heavy tough box into his car on the day of the killing, and that Aguilar had lied about her whereabouts, according to a criminal complaint.
On June 21, with phone data from their cellphones leading to an isolated spot on the Leon River outside Fort Hood, investigators found disturbed soil, a burn site and a charred tough box lid.
Robinson was put under guard on June 30, nine days later, following a confession from Aguilar that she helped burn and mix the remains with concrete, which were discovered earlier that day by contractors building a fence.
Investigators returned to the same site they searched earlier. A civilian volunteer realized one of the agents unknowingly stood on top of Guillén’s remains before they left.