A year after Vanessa Guillen’s death, here’s a look at the tragic chain of events that inspired a nationwide movement to protect those who serve.
FORT HOOD, Texas — Thursday, April 22, will mark a year since Spc. Vanessa Guillen disappeared off Fort Hood, unleashing a months-long search, rallies and calls for change at the Central Texas military post.
The search for Guillen gained international attention as her family and supporters, participated in rallies outside Fort Hood. Their efforts, along with those of their attorney, Natalie Khawam, and lawmakers led to a July 2020 meeting with former President Donald Trump.
The case also led to multiple investigations including an independent review of the climate and culture on Fort Hood that resulted in major leadership changes on post and an overhaul of how the Army should handle sexual assault and harassment cases.
Guillen’s remains were found on June 30, just more than two months after her disappearance. A day later a suspect in the case, Spc. Aaron Robinson, killed himself in Killeen as police closed in to arrest him.
Cecily Aguilar, Robinson’s girlfriend, was arrested and confessed to helping Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body. Aguilar remains in federal custody awaiting a trial.
Here is a timeline of events starting with the day Guillen went missing.
Timeline in the case
April 22, 2020: Guillen was last seen on Fort Hood wearing a black T-shirt in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters on Fort Hood, CID said. Her keys, ID card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she was working earlier that day.
April 27: Army CID offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to Guillen’s location.
April 28: “Something isn’t right. Something happened… it’s just hard to tell right now,” Guillen’s sister, Mayra, said of the soldier’s disappearance a week later. “It’s strange that she vanished. It’s unbelievable because all her stuff was there. She was at work.”
May 1: Members of the Guillen family and friends rallied in Killeen to raise awareness about the soldier’s disappearance. This rally marked the first of many throughout Killeen that would come in the following months.
May 4: Guillen’s family started a GoFundMe to raise money to help them continue raising awareness about the soldier’s disappearance, search for Guillen and hire a private investigator to look into the case.
May 22: Another rally is held in Killeen, exactly one month after Guillen’s disappearance, in front of Fort Hood.
May 30: The Guillen family, friends and supporters held a search party at Miller Spring Park in Belton in hopes of finding the soldier.
“I feel that she is still with all of us, and that hopefully someone confesses,” Mayra Guillen said. “ Or we can somehow find her ourselves before the authorities because it has been over a month we need to keep pushing.”
June 10: Officials gave an update on the search for Guillen. Multiple law enforcement agencies through the Army, the state of Texas and local departments continued the search on and off Fort Hood, according to a release from the post.
June 12: The Guillen family, joined by the League of United Latin American Citizens, rallied again in front of Fort Hood.
June 13: Houston rapper Baby Bash added a $5,000 reward on top of the CID reward to help find Guillen. He was the first of several celebrities to speak about the missing soldier.
June 15: Army CID increased the reward for information leading to Guillen’s location to $25,000, up from $15,000. CID said they have no credible information or report that Guillen was the victim of sexual abuse, a claim her family made.
June 16: LULAC announced they are adding a $25,000 reward for information leading to Guillen in an effort to find her.
June 17: Surveillance video released from Taqueria Mexico in Killeen showed Guillen at the restaurant in April before she disappeared. The restaurant owner said Guillen would often go in with other soldiers and friends.
June 18: Fort Hood announced they are launching a sexual assault investigation in Guillen’s case. A Fort Hood commander appointed a team to conduct the investigation into the allegations. Fort Hood said the team would gather evidence, consider it and report findings and make recommendations.
“I opened an investigation concerning the information provided by the Guillen family that Pfc. Vanessa Guillen was harassed prior to her disappearance,” Col. Ralph Overland said. “I take allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation.”
June 18: 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldiers continued search efforts for Guillen in the training area near the regiment area of operations, Fort Hood said.
June 19: Family, friends and supporters held another rally outside Fort Hood to continue raising awareness about the missing soldier’s case.
June 22: Fort Hood CID and Texas Equusearch conducted their first search along the Leon River in Bell County after receiving a tip. The Texas Rangers and Morgan’s Point Dive Team were also involved in the search.
June 23: Fort Hood CID confirmed investigators suspected foul play as Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia and the Guillen family met with leaders. Guillen’s mother Gloria gave an emotional speech in Spanish, saying she did not trust Fort Hood and didn’t want to talk to them.
“This girl is my life. She is my everything,” Gloria said. “I want my little girl back. For the love of God, help me.”
June 24: LULAC urged Latino families to stop their children from enlisting in the Army until Guillen is found and those responsible are brought to justice. The organization also said the handling of Guillen’s case was “troubling and reckless.”
“It’s heartbreaking and we are filled with both anger and anguish over the crime committed against Vanessa and on an American military installation,” the National President of LULAC, Domingo Garcia said.
June 26: Another rally was held on Fort Hood Street and Rancier Avenue in Killeen.
June 29: Then-Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy addressed Guillen’s case via on Facebook.
“We are very concerned for the welfare of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen and we fully understand the frustration felt by the family, friends and fellow soldiers of Vanessa,” McCarthy said. “We are doing everything in our power to get her back and will not stop until we do.”
June 30: Human remains found were found near the Leon River. Guillen’s family learned of the development while in Washington D.C. meeting with members of congress about the case.
Army CID said they returned to the area after receiving additional information and discovered “partial human remains.” The agency had previously searched the area.
No confirmation was given on who the remains belonged to at that time. Tim Miller with Texas Equusearch said the remains were found in a shallow grave but were concealed well enough that dogs used in the first search did not find them.
July 1: A suspect in the case killed himself as Killeen police officers tried to arrest him after he left Fort Hood. A woman was taken into custody in connection to the case. Details on the individuals were not given, and their identities were not released.
July 1: Khawam said she believed the human remains found June 30 belonged to the missing soldier during a news conference in D.C. Khawam also called for a congressional investigation into the case and the military post. The attorney also called for legislation to improve sexual abuse reporting in the military. Guillen’s sisters also called for justice in their sister’s case.
“If this can happen to my sister, it can happen to anyone else,” Lupe Guillen said. “My sister is no joke. My sister is a human being. I want justice and I want answers because my sister did not do this to herself.”
July 2: Then-Fort Hood Maj. General Scott Efflandt and Fort Hood CID representatives held an update on the case. The officials confirmed that the suspect who killed himself was Aaron Robinson and that Guillen and he were coworkers. Officials said there was no evidence that Guillen was sexually abused or that her disappearance had anything to do with the claims made by the family.
July 2: A federal criminal complaint filed in the case revealed chilling details on Guillen’s disappearance and death. The complaint said Robinson bludgeoned Guillen to death with a hammer and took the body off post in a case with wheels. Then, he and Aguilar attempted to dispose of the body by mutilating it and attempting to burn it before burying the pieces somewhere along the Leon River.
July 5: The Guillen family and Khawam said remains found near the Leon River on June 30 were confirmed to belong to the missing soldier.
July 6: Fort Hood confirmed that the remains found by the Leon River were Guillen’s.
“We all feel her loss,” Efflandt said. “The loss of a vibrant young woman who bravely volunteered to serve her country. The loss of a talented soldier. The loss of a loving family member and the loss of a friend with a bright future ahead of her.”
July 6: Aguilar faced a federal judge for the first time in Waco. A preliminary hearing was set for July 14.
When asked if she understood the charges against her, Aguilar simply told the judge, “Yeah, sure.”
July 7: Mayra Guillen said the family was still searching for answers and said she suspected sexual harassment had to do with the case.
July 11: The Mayor of Houston declared July 11 “Vanessa Guillen Day.”
July 14: Aguilar, charged with three counts of conspiracy to tamper with evidence in the case, pleaded not guilty to the charges and was denied bond.
July 17: The 3rd Cavalry Regiment held a memorial for Guillen where she received full military honors. Gloria toured armory where CID said Guillen was killed.
July 21: Members of Congress gathered at the U.S. Capitol to call for justice and discuss steps they were taking to end sexual harassment and assault in the military and Department of Veterans Affairs.
July 27: Aguilar’s attorney filed a motion for a gag order on trial participants, including witnesses, the Guillen family and their attorneys.
July 29: The U.S. House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing regarding an examination of Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention Program. Col. Patrick Wempe with the U.S. Army Forces Command shared the results, and said in part that the program meets Army standards but needed improvements.
July 30: The Guillen family held a rally in D.C. to demand justice and the passage of the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill with military protections for sexual assault victims. The family also met with former President Trump regarding a congressional investigation into the case.
July 30: Secretary McCarthy named a five-member civilian panel that would conduct an independent review of Fort Hood. The review would look at command climate culture, the surrounding military community, Army values like safety, respect inclusivity, commitment to diversity and sexual harassment.
Aug. 6: Secretary McCarthy visited and spoke from Fort Hood, where he said he was launching a program to address lack of diversity, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault and suicide. He spoke about the civilian review panel and commitment to improvement along with an investigation into Guillen’s murder.
Aug. 7: Rallies for answers and justice continued outside of Fort Hood with Guillen’s family in attendance. At that point, funeral plans were not yet set as the family had not received the soldier’s remains.
Aug. 8: Fort Hood Commander Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt’s move to Fort Bliss was delayed amid ongoing reviews into post climate surrounding Guillen’s death and that of other Fort Hood soldiers.
Aug. 13: The trial date for Aguilar was set to begin Sept. 28, according to court documents filed.
Aug. 14: A memorial and public visitation was held for Guillen in Houston. Family, friends and community members spoke and honored Guillen at Cesar E. Chavez High School, from which she graduated.
Aug. 15: Guillen was laid to rest in a private funeral at Holy Name Catholic Church in Houston. Her final resting place is at Dignity Memorial Cemetery in Houston.
Aug. 17: A federal judge in Waco denies a motion for a gag order in Aguilar’s case.
Aug. 25: Sen. John Cornyn sent a letter to Secretary McCarthy that said changes need to be made at Fort Hood regarding soldier safety.
“Soldier safety is rightfully the Army’s top priority, and it is clear that changes must be made to Fort Hood in order to better safeguard the soldiers stationed there,” Cornyn wrote in part.
Aug. 30: Five civilian members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee arrived on Fort Hood for a two-week fact-finding mission. The FHIRC was set to examine command climate and culture, surrounding military community and more.
Sept. 1: New leadership was named on Fort Hood in response to Guillen’s case. Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV was set to assume duties as deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of Fort Hood.
Efflandt was set to continue serving as deputy commanding general for support and would remain at Fort Hood. Gen. John Murry was set to conduct an in-depth investigation into chain of command actions related to Guillen’s disappearance and death.
Sept. 1: Secretary McCarthy spoke about changes needed in the Army in an NBC Dateline interview. McCarthy said soldiers need to be able to trust one another and that the military needs to prioritize soldiers.
Sept. 2: The new commanding general takes over on Fort Hood. Maj. Gen. John B. Richardson IV was named Fort Hood deputy commanding general – operations for III Corps and Senior Commander. Richardson took over for Efflandt, who was set to stay in supporting role.
Sept. 3: Mayra Guillen said the change in leadership is good first step, but that more needed to be done.
“I was surprised in a way that they are finally taking action,” she said. “It gets to me every time I hear somebody else passed or somebody else was hurt.”
Sept. 8: Two congressional subcommittee chairs sent a letter to McCarthy saying they were investigating soldier deaths and disappearances of Fort Hood, including that of Guillen.
Sept. 9: The #IAmVanessaGuillen bill was introduced on Capitol Hill. The bill would, in part, allow military personnel to report sexual abuse claims to a third-party agency rather than their chain of command.
Sept. 11: Houston ISD designated Sept. 30 as Vanessa Guillen Day within the district. The soldier was a graduate of Cesar E. Chavez High School in the school district.
Sept. 11: The Army CID commander talked about interviews and phone records leading investigators to determine the Robinson was the suspect in Guillen’s death in an NBC Dateline interview.
Sept. 15: Aguilar’s trial was delayed. It was originally set to start Sept. 28, but was pushed back to Nov. 10. This is the first time the trial would be delayed.
Sept. 18: A congressional delegation arrived in Central Texas to meet with Fort Hood leadership and investigate soldier deaths on post.
Oct. 8: Fort Hood announced they set up a hotline where soldiers can report incidents of harassment and military equal opportunity complaints. The hotline provides around-the-clock information on MEO and harassment policies and procedures on how and where to file complaints, the behaviors that constitute discrimination and harassment and how to get help if a soldier is sexually harassed.
Oct. 20: Army leaders brief the Guillen family on an investigation into the soldier’s death. They concluded that Guillen’s death happened “in the line of duty,” meaning she was entitled to a variety of Army benefits.
Nov. 9: Aguilar’s hearing and trial were delayed again, according to court documents. The hearing was then set to be Jan. 5 with rearraignment and trial officially starting Jan. 19.
Nov. 10: The Guillen family met with Fort Hood leadership to see the design for a gate set to be named in Guillen’s honor.
Nov. 18: Secretary McCarthy said the FHIRC report showed “significant work” was needed to improve how the Army handles sexual assault cases. He said the report would be released Dec. 8 along with and action plan.
Dec. 8: The FHIRC report was released and offered nine findings and 70 recommendations to address many areas of improvement, including SHARP flaws and missing soldier reporting. Secretary McCarthy said 14 Fort Hood leaders were relieved or suspended for their handling of the case. A new plan is released to change policy on how soldiers are reported missing.
Dec. 9: FHIRC members testified about findings to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Military Personnel. CID officers were found to be inexperienced, leading to flawed reports and handling of cases among other findings, according to the committee.
Dec. 29: Aguilar’s trial was delayed for a third time. The plea agreement deadline was set for Feb. 15, 2021, rearraignment was set for Feb. 23 and jury selection set for March 8.
Jan. 26, 2021: New Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered senior leaders to gather reports on sexual assault prevention programs in the military and assessments of what does and doesn’t work.
Feb. 23: Efflandt was assigned to a new role as special assistant to the commanding general of Joint Base San Antonio after his transfer to Fort Bliss was halted amid Fort Hood reviews.
Feb. 25: Fort Hood leaders shared the progress made on the FHIRC findings and recommendations. Leaders reported they have completed nearly 15 of the 70 total recommendations and said they initiated action on 27 others.
March 3: Members of the Guillen family spoke on the delayed trial for Aguilar as the trial pushed back yet again, with no official date set. The trial was previously set to start March 8, but the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said it was canceled until further notice as it was designated a complex case.
March 16: Members of the FHIRC presented their findings and recommendations to Congress and were joined by three military criminal investigative organizations on Capitol Hill.
“The initial investigation into Vanessa’s death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
March 24: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on sexual assault in the military. Attorney Natalie Khawam testified during the hearing, talking about Guillen’s case.
March 24: Aguilar’s attorney filed a motion to have statements Aguilar made about Guillen’s death suppressed. The attorney argued that Aguilar’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was detained.
March 30: A federal judge granted the prosecution in the case more time to prepare their response to the motion filed to suppress statements Aguilar made about Guillen’s death.
April 15: Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said progress continues on Fort Hood and across the entire military branch. He said the ‘People First Initiative’ was expanding trust between soldiers, families and the community.
April 16: Army officials announced an overhaul of how sexual assault, harassment and other crimes are handled and investigated as a direct result of the FHIRC findings. Among the changes are the re-structuring the U.S. Army CID and redesigning the SHARP program to address shortcomings identified in the FHIRC report.
April 19: The Fort Hood gate named after Guillen is unveiled in a ceremony on post with family members in attendance.
April 20: Texas legislators introduced bills aimed to protect service members from sexual harassment and sexual assault in Guillen’s memory. They also introduced bills to designate Sept. 30 as “Vanessa Guillen Day” and rename a state highway in her honor.
April 21: The family organized a “Run for Vanessa Guillen” virtual 5K as part of a week of events leading to the one-year anniversary of the soldier’s disappearance.
April 22: Members of the Guillen family and their attorney held a news conference in D.C. encouraging the passage of the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act. The family was also set to attend a candlelight vigil in D.C. in the evening. They encouraged other supporters in cities with murals of the soldier to host candlelight vigils of their own, marking the one-year anniversary of her disappearance from Fort Hood.