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Slain Fort Hood soldier was sexually harassed, but not by her killer, investigation finds

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 2:29 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2021 at 6:35 PM CDT
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(KWTX) - Slain Fort Hood Spc. Vanessa Guillén was sexually harassed, but not by her killer, Spc. Aaron David Robinson, according to the results of an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation released Friday afternoon.

Robinson did sexually harass another soldier from April 2019 to September 2019, but “the investigating officer found no credible evidence to conclude Spc. Robinson sexually harassed Spc. Guillén or that they had any relationship outside of their work setting,” according to an executive summary of the 264-page report on the findings of the investigation led by Gen. John M. Murray, the commanding general of Army Futures Command.

The investigation, so-called because it’s governed by Army Regulation 15-6, is the Army’s primary tool for gathering information in such situations and may involve witness interviews, and the collection of documentary and physical evidence.

The investigation found that Guillén was sexually harassed by a supervisor, but her leaders failed to take appropriate action; that Guillén’s regiment failed to emphasize the response to and prevention of sexual harassment; that Guillén’s unit didn’t follow accountability standards for soldiers during COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, and that the post’s acting commander didn’t effective engage the media and the public after Guillén disappeared.

As a result of the investigation, Gen. Michael X. Garrett, commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, relieved five current or former 3rd Cavalry Regiment leaders, three of whom will also receive General Officer Memorandums of Reprimand and has referred action against seven other officers and NCOs to III Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Pat White and further action against one NCO to another command. The eight soldiers will also receive reprimands and one will be relieved.

The actions follow the relief of Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, former Deputy Commanding General of III Corps, and Col. Ralph Overland and Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp, the former commander and command sergeant major of 3rd Cavalry Regiment (3CR), announced on Dec. 8, 2020, who were among a total of 14 officers and enlisted soldiers who were either fired or suspended because of chronic failures of leadership that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence, including murder, sexual assault and harassment.

“I directed this investigation to identify what happened and to find areas where we needed to improve across our command,” said Garrett said in a press release Friday.

“We can and must hold ourselves accountable, learn and improve across all our Army units. To do any less breaks trust with our people and the American public.”

Members of Guillén’s family, in a statement released through their attorney, Natalie Khawam, called the report “more damage control” by the Army.

“This report evidences why our soldiers need and deserve to have the rights and protections that the I am Vanessa Guillén’ Act provides,” the family said.

The act would include sexual harassment as a crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, require the Secretary of Defense to establish a process through which a servicemember could make a confidential complaint of sexual harassment, and shift decisions on whether to prosecute a sexual offense outside of the existing military chain of command to the office of special prosecutor within each branch of the military.

Guillén was sexually harassed, but not by her killer

Guillén reported informally she was sexually harassed on two occasions and in both instances her supervisor failed to report the harassment and other leaders “failed to take appropriate action,” the summary says.

But in a memorandum appended to the report, Garrett wrote, “After careful consideration, I find there is no evidence Spc. Guillén filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment and therefore no one in the chain of command, unit or outside the unit, failed to properly report.”

The first incident occurred in a troop orderly room late in the summer of 2019, and involved a supervisor who “made an inappropriate sexual comment in Spanish, which Spc. Guillén translated as a solicitation for her to participate in a ‘threesome,’” according to an executive summary released Friday.

Afterward, another supervisor “noticed a marked change in her demeanor, which prompted the supervisor to ask if she was OK,” the summary says.

Guillén then reported the incident to her supervisor and another soldier and later confided in “two select peers.”

Two soldiers reported the incident to Guillén’s unit’s leaders, who “failed to initiate an investigation.”

Guillén’s supervisor was unprofessional and his “counterproductive behaviors adversely affected Spc. Guillén and others,” the summary says.

“The supervisor specifically targeted her, called her out in front of her peers, and consistently made an example out of her.”

The second incident occurred during a field training exercise when the supervisor encountered Guillén “while she performed personal hygiene in the wood line,” the summary says.

“Spc. Guillén reported that this made her uncomfortable.”

Guillén, the report says, also “reluctantly confided in her mother that she had been sexually harassed by (name redacted) and wanted to leave the Army after returning in November 2019 from a rotation to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.

“While the investigating officer did find evidence of sexual harassment and mistreatment toward SPC Guillén, after examining all the evidence and witness statements, he determined that those incidents were not related to her murder.”

Guillén’s leadership, however, failed to hold the supervisor accountable.

“They knew of the aggressive and counterproductive leadership, but too no action,” the summary says.

“Senior non-commissioned officers were aware of the concerns with this supervisor and failed to advise their leadership before this individual was moved from one squadron to another.”

Investigation provides a timeline for Guillén’s murder, but not a motive

On the morning of April 22, 2020, Guillén was assigned to inspect and process broken equipment in one arms room and to validate the serial number of a machine gun in the Arms room of A Troop, Regimental Engineer Squadron.

Robinson was in the second arms room, to which Guillén went at around 10:15 a.m. to validate the serial number, which was texted at 10:23 a.m. to her supervisor.

That was the last known contact anyone had with her.

The soldier who opened the first arms room for her texted Guillén at 11:05 a.m. to ask when she was going to return, and at 12:16 p.m., after she failed to respond, “secured her debit card, military ID card and keys.”

The soldier and a supervisor went to the second arms room at 12:31 p.m., but found it locked.

At around 8 p.m. “several of her close peers became increasingly alarmed,” and at around 10 p.m. a duty officer was notified she was missing.

Six soldiers searched for her from 10:15 p.m. until around 2:25 a.m. the next morning in the squadron area and by 7:30 a.m. on April 23, senior leadership was directly involved.

At around 8 a.m., one of Guillén’s sisters was escorted to the squadron area to meet with one of the missing soldier’s supervisors.

The search of barracks, arms rooms, motor pools, and unit areas was completed by 1:05 p.m. April 23.

Starting the same day, a “significant search effort” was mounted that involved ground searches by thousands of soldiers, dog teams, and air searchers by helicopter and drones.

“These intensive search efforts continued for weeks and included increased involvement from civilian law enforcement agencies and private groups.”

Guillen investigation crime scene near Leon River
Guillen investigation crime scene near Leon River

On June 30, contractors working on a fence along the Leon River discovered remains later confirmed to be Guillén’s.

A federal affidavit released on July 2, 2020 says Robinson, 20 of Calumet City, Ill., beat Guillén, with a hammer.

Robinson shot himself in the head early in the morning on July 1, 2020 in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue as Killeen officers approached him.

His girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 23, who’s accused of helping Robinson dispose of Guillén’s remains, was arrested the same day.

She’s charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and remains in custody.

Investigation found failings before and after Guillén’s disappearance

The investigation found Guillén’s regiment didn’t sufficiently emphasize the response to and prevention of sexual assault and harassment and that Guillén’s leadership wasn’t sufficiently involved in the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.

The investigation also found Guillén’s unit’s leaders failed to confirm personally Guillén’s whereabouts on the afternoon of April 22 and that Fort Hood’s acting senior commander and his staff failed to engage the media and the public.

“This contributed to an inability to inform and educate the public in a timely manner, and maintain transparency with the Guillén family.”

The Army was also ineffective at “engaging in social media,” which played a central role in establishing the negative information environment surrounding Fort Hood’s response to the disappearance of Spc. Guillén.”

The search for the missing soldier, however, was “immediate and well-coordinated,” the investigation found, but Guillén’s disappearance “highlighted gaps and ambiguities in U.S. Army policies regarding the characterization of soldiers who are missing.”

“Although the chain of command believed that Spc. Guillén was involuntarily absent, guidance they received from Human Resources Command (HRC) and the Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division (CMAOD) was that they lacked sufficient evidence to support a missing status determination, the summary says.

Guillén’s duty status was listed as AWOL from April 24 until June 30 as a result.

The Army has since published a new policy on the duty status of missing soldiers.

In response to the findings of the investigation, the Guillen’s family Attorney Natalie Khawam took to Twitter to say it’s too little too late.

“Last year, the base did their own Mickey Mouse investigation, and tried to allege that Vanessa Guillen wasn’t sexually harassed, and I called them out on it,” she said.

“Today, the DOD has finally admitted that Vanessa was sexually harassed. It’s not a relief to hear the truth, it’s unfortunate it took so long, because her death could have been prevented!”

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