Fort Hood Pfc. Vanessa Guillen has disappeared in April. NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks with attorney Natalie Khawam and Vanessa’s sister Lupe Guillen about new details in this case.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In April of this year, Vanessa Guillen, a soldier at Fort Hood in Texas, disappeared. Since then, her family has been desperate for answers. This week, they started to get some. On Tuesday, human remains were found near the Leon River, although they have not yet been identified. Wednesday, the Army announced one suspect in the case had been arrested, and another specialist, Aaron David Robinson, had killed himself. Then yesterday, the FBI released a criminal complaint that tells a terrible story alleging Guillen was murdered on base by a fellow soldier then buried in stages near the same river. Family attorney Natalie Khawam says they learned details at the same rate the public did.
NATALIE KHAWAM: We got the answers when her body was found and Robinson shot himself, so that’s not good timing.
KELLY: Fort Hood maintains they have remained in contact with the Guillen family since April, and there are multiple investigations under way into her disappearance, also into whether she was sexually harassed. I spoke with Lupe Guillen, her sister, and attorney Natalie Khawam earlier today. Khawam says the events alleged in the criminal complaint confirm their worst fears.
KHAWAM: The story, unfortunately, is a nightmare that we were afraid of what happened. We knew she didn’t run away. We knew she didn’t, you know – wasn’t hiding in a closet anywhere. We knew that there was something horrible going to happen because she felt very uncomfortable about these men sexually harassing her at the base.
KELLY: Lupe Guillen, I want to bring you in here. And allow me to start just by saying I’m so sorry for everything that you and your family are going through. I know you and your family believe that your sister’s disappearance is linked to harassment she said she was enduring on base. Can you just tell me what she told you about them?
LUPE GUILLEN: She first told her best friend Jocelyn about one incident with Robinson.
KELLY: This is specialist Aaron David Robinson. He is the suspect who took his own life. Please go on.
GUILLEN: And then there’s this other incident that happened on Fort Hood military base that this other man was sexually harassing her verbally and used to stalk her as well. But she never told my mother the name of that man.
KELLY: She did not report sexual harassment. Investigators say they haven’t found any evidence that your sister was being harassed, but they are investigating as we speak. The Army has announced a review of the SHARP program at Fort Hood. That’s the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention there. Does that feel like something to you? Does that feel like an important step?
GUILLEN: My sister was too afraid to report the harassment because no one would listen to her just like the other girls from #iamvanessaguillen. They take the sexual harassment, the sexual assault, as a joke. They don’t care. That’s why we asked for a congressional investigation. We asked for the legislation to be passed. I am Vanessa Guillen. Because from my perspective, those SHARP classes haven’t worked at all for no one. And the history of Fort Hood is just unbelievable, and it is disgusting.
KELLY: That’s so hard. I am so sorry. Natalie, let me pull you in here because I know that you are calling for a congressional investigation, we just heard mentioned there. You’re calling for legislation related to this case. Would you tell me what you all are hoping to achieve?
KHAWAM: Our legislation would provide a third-party agency for soldiers, men and women, who are victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault just like if you were to be sexually harassed or assaulted at your workplace. You go to the EEOC. You don’t go to your boss or any people that are your command. You go to the EEOC. So it’s a safe place. It’s a neutral place. It’s an unbiased place. And that needs to be provided to our soldiers so they can feel safe reporting something because unfortunately, in the command, the person who is your SHARP, the person who assists you in your reporting, is one of your colleagues in the same unit. And then everybody in that unit knows that you’re reported because they all work together. So if you’re turning on one of your brothers and sisters – which you’re really not turning, but that’s how they get treated – and therefore they either dismiss it as, you’re just complaining, get over it or you’re a piranha trying to ruin this soldier’s career.
KELLY: Lupe, if I can come back to you. I would love to end just by talking about your sister. And I wonder if you’d told me a little bit about her, that would allow me and other people listening to know her.
GUILLEN: My sister Vanessa Guillen since she was a little girl, like about 10 years old, she used to tell my mom how she wanted to be a soldier because she wanted to protect and serve the nation. She wanted to be a fighter. She wanted to be a hero. She wanted to be someone in life. And then she just entered high school. And she was like, I’m signing. And I’m going to be someone in life. And I’m going to have better opportunities. And I’m going to be that girl that will bring more light to my family that will help us and anything. And yet the military filled her. And Vanessa was just that wonderful person. You know how they say nothing’s perfect? But for me, trust me when I say she’s a role model. I wanted to be like her.
KELLY: She’s your big sister, is that right?
GUILLEN: She’s my big sister. That’s right.
KELLY: I am so sorry. And I appreciate your speaking with us. That is Lupe Guillen. We also spoke to Natalie Khawam, attorney for the Guillen family. Lupe’s sister, Vanessa Guillen, disappeared in April. FBI and local law enforcement and Fort Hood all have investigations underway. Thank you to you both.
GUILLEN: Thank you.
KHAWAM: Thank you.
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