This article contains topics of sexual abuse, suicide, and gun violence.
The Netflix documentary I Am Vanessa Guillen examines the case of murdered army soldier Vanessa Guillen, although it neglects the context and history behind the case and where it happened. The film focuses on Guillen’s family’s efforts to implement change to prevent something similar from occurring again. The title is derived from a hashtag the family created that went viral and ties into the idea that the abuse Guillen experienced was not unique. One documentary can only cover so much, though, and as a result, it leaves out important details surrounding the case.
What is covered in I Am Vanessa Guillen are the events that led up to its subject’s death. Vanessa Guillen was a 20-year-old Army soldier who was stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. She was last seen in a parking lot on base on April 22, 2020. After being declared missing, several groups, including Tim Miller’s Texas EquuSearch group, were called in to search for her. Eventually, her remains were discovered near the Leon River. Fellow soldier Aaron Robinson was found to be behind the murder, and he fatally shot himself when confronted by police.
What Happened To Robinson’s Accomplice Cecily Aguilar?
I Am Vanessa Guillen mentions that Aaron Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was arrested in connection with Vanessa Guillen’s death, but what happened to her beyond that was not covered in the documentary. Aguilar was charged in connection with the case due to the fact that she knew Robinson had committed the murder. Additionally, she helped Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body. After being charged with a litany of felonies, Aguilar eventually pled guilty in November 2022, just weeks after the Netflix documentary premiered. Although her sentencing is still pending, she is currently facing up to 30 years in prison (via KWTX).
What Was The Official Motive For Vanessa’s Murder?
I Am Vanessa Guillen posits that Aaron Robinson murdered Vanessa Guillen in the course of sexually assaulting her, yet the official explanation differs from this idea. Cecily Aguilar admitted to police during interrogation that Robinson murdered for a non-sexual reason. Specifically, she claimed that Robinson told her that Guillen saw his phone lock screen, which had a picture of Aguilar. He was worried that this would violate the Army’s rules against fraternization, as Aguilar was married to another soldier who resided on the base. In his panic, Robinson bludgeoned Guillen with a hammer (via Army Times).
Fort Hood Has A History Of Deaths Relating To Harassment
Despite the fact that the main focus of the true-crime documentary I Am Vanessa Guillen is on the history of sexual misconduct that has occurred in the military, Fort Hood has a lurid history of other unusual deaths. In 2020, the year Guillen was murdered, there were at least 31 other deaths on base. Some of these bear a resemblance to Guillen’s case. One example is the case of Elder Fernandes, a 23-year-old soldier who took his own life after being missing for over a week. Like Guillen, he also was reportedly a victim of sexual harassment that the military turned a blind eye to (via USA Today).
Another Fort Hood Soldier’s Body Was Found During The Search For Guillen
Although it is not mentioned in the Netflix true crime documentary I Am Vanessa Guillen, the body of another Fort Hood soldier was discovered while authorities scoured the area for Guillen. The body found belonged to Gregory Morales, who disappeared from the Fort Hood area in August 2019. The Army initially listed him as a deserter and not much effort was put into finding him. By the time his remains were recovered nearly a year after his disappearance, the body had been skeletonized. The Army stated that they believe foul play was involved in his death and the case currently remains unsolved (via KXXV).
Fort Hood Has Been The Site Of Other Acts Of Violence
Although I Am Vanessa Guillen is primarily concerned with the rampant sexual abuse taking place at the base, Fort Hood has also been the site of other inhumane acts, namely mass shootings. In 2009, Army Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist at Fort Hood, opened fire on fellow soldiers. Hasan fatally shot 13 people and wounded over 30 others before being subdued. The attack was later ruled to be motivated by Islamic Extremism, and Hasan was sentenced to death for the murders (via The Washington Post). The attack was the worst act of violence to ever occur on a U.S. military installation.
History repeated itself again in 2014 when 34-year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez opened fire on base after being denied leave. The shootings, which spanned several locations around Fort Hood, left three people dead and a dozen wounded. Lopez then took his own life. In the months leading up to the attack, Lopez complained of being harassed and bullied by other soldiers in his unit — an issue that seems to be prevalent in many of the tragic incidents that have affected the base (via Daily Mail).
What Effects Have The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act Had On The U.S. Army Going Forward?
I Am Vanessa Guillen ends with President Joe Biden signing the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act into law, although the actual effects of the bill were not thoroughly covered. The bill included many stipulations that are intended to cut down on the rate of sexual abuse and harassment like what Vanessa Guillen and other soldiers have suffered. The most important change the bill has made is that it criminalizes sexual harassment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — a type of crime that was previously not specifically part of the code (via NBC).
The law also now allows soldiers who are victims to report allegations of harassment to someone outside their chain of command. As mentioned in I Am Vanessa Guillen, part of the reason victims such as Guillen may have been apprehensive about reporting incidents was due to the fact that their allegations would be investigated by people close to their harassers. The I Am Vanessa Guillen Act also puts protections in place to prevent retaliations from taking place against those who speak out. Altogether, the act will make it harder for the pervasive sexual harassment at Fort Hood and other Army installations to continue.