AUSTIN, Texas - April 22 marks the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen from Fort Hood. About two months later, the body of 20-year-old Guillen was found in a shallow grave near the Leon River.
Friends and family have been remembering Guillen all week. A gate at Fort Hood was renamed in Guillen's memory on April 19 and today lawmakers are reintroducing the "I Am Vanessa Guillen" bill in the U.S. House.
The attorney for Guillen's family, Natalie Khawam, and the Guillen family held a news conference at the United States Naval Memorial in Washington, D.C to remember Guillen and to discuss the bill.
Vigils are also planned for later today in D.C. and in Houston.
There will also be one in Austin that has been organized by LULAC, Austin City Council member Vanessa Fuentes, and others. The vigil is at 7 p.m. (CT) and will be held at 2523 Rockridge Drive. Those attending are asked to bring candles, flowers, and messages.
WATCH THE VIGIL BELOW:
WHO IS VANESSA GUILLEN?
On June 30, partial human remains were found close to the Leon River in Bell County in Texas, an area of interest in the search for Guillen. More remains were found in another shallow grave on July 1 and the remains were later identified to be Guillen's.
According to an affidavit, the Fort Hood specialist was bludgeoned to death by fellow Spc Aaron Robinson who later killed himself. Robinson's girlfriend Cecily Aguilar was arrested after she confessed to helping Robinson bury Guillen's body.
WHAT IS THE "I AM VANESSA GUILLEN" BILL?
The "I Am Vanessa Guillen" act was introduced on Capitol Hill in 2020. The bill aims to help military members report instances of sexual abuse or harassment without fear of retaliation along the chain of command.
Under the bill named after Guillen and sponsored by Democratic Texas U.S. Representative Sylvia Garcia, it would allow for an independent prosecutor to investigate cases of sexual violence.
Sexual harassment and assault would both be made a crime within the uniform code of military justice. Currently, cases of sexual harassment are addressed through administrative sanctions.
"The #IAmVanessaGuillen bill would help our men and women in the armed forces because they're the ones putting their lives at risk. They say protect our protectors. They deserve to be respected, to be heard, and to be honored, just like Vanessa," said Lupe Guillen.
The bill has garnered bipartisan support and sponsors say it will help to reduce a victim's fear in coming forward. The Guillen family also met with former President Donald Trump in 2020 to discuss the bill.
IMPACT OF VANESSA GUILLEN'S DEATH
Guillen's disappearance and death were the first in a spate of missing and slain soldiers that have plagued the base. Multiple investigations into the "command climate and culture" have been launched following allegations of rampant sexual harassment and abuse.
The Army fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers after an investigation into soldier safety and well-being at Fort Hood. The investigation was sparked by the death of Guillen as well as several other soldiers on post.
The Army also ordered policy changes to address chronic leadership failures at the base that contributed to a widespread pattern of violence including murder, sexual assaults, and harassment.
A five-person expert committee was formed to look into the climate and culture both on and off post. As part of the Operation People First initiative, the committee visited post from late August through mid-September.
After Guillen's death, murals have been painted and marches have been held to help keep her memory alive.
Filiberto Mendieta worked on a Southeast Austin mural with help from artist Arturo Silva in July 2020.