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Army Soldier's Family Says She Was The Target Of Sexual Harassment

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And just a warning to listeners, you might find some of the details in this next story disturbing. It is the story of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who was last seen in April at Fort Hood, a military base in Texas. Since she disappeared, her family has been desperate for answers. They have spoken of how she was sexually harassed in the military long before she went missing. And this weekend, remains found at a river close to the base were confirmed to be hers. Jolene Almendarez has been reporting on this story for Texas Public Radio and joins us this morning. Hi, Jolene.

JOLENE ALMENDAREZ, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

GREENE: Good morning. I wonder if you can just tell us a bit first about Vanessa Guillen and what we know about the circumstances that led to her death.

ALMENDAREZ: Right. So what we know is that she'd been missing for about 10 weeks. Her family wanted to know what happened and to come out publicly that she'd been sexually harassed in the weeks leading up to her disappearance. Earlier this week, there was a press conference that happened in Fort Hood. And during that press conference, the U.S. Army said there was no evidence that that had happened. They said they interviewed more than 300 people. And there was no proof that sexual harassment had occurred. Her family, obviously, says that's not true.

And when officials released the name of the suspect, Aaron David Robinson, the family came out and said that he was one of the people who Vanessa Guillen said had been sexually harassing her. The Army says that didn't happen. They say that he bludgeoned her to death with a hammer in one of the armory rooms and then recruited another person to help him destroy the body nearby. That person confessed back in June on June 30. And that's sort of how this whole story starts to snowball over the past week.

GREENE: Well, I mean, we should say, it's taken more than two months for her remains to be found, to be identified. Do we know why it took so long?

ALMENDAREZ: Yes. The Army says that they've been interviewing Aaron David Robinson since the beginning. Apparently, they're saying that he and this other woman, Cecily Aguilar, who was his girlfriend and the estranged wife of another former Fort Hood soldier. And essentially, those people had lied about what happened.

But really, it's the cellphone records that officials are saying did them in and created inconsistencies in their story. And eventually, Cecily Aguilar, they're saying that she confessed to everything on June 30, including telling them where Vanessa Guillen body was. Right after that is when Aaron David Robinson, they're saying, fled the base. And eventually, they say, he kills himself before being taken into custody.

GREENE: Wow. There's just so much here. So Jolene, can you say what the family is looking for now? What are they demanding?

ALMENDAREZ: Right. So in the past few weeks, there have been some protests at Fort Hood calling for an investigation into what happened to Vanessa Guillen. Obviously, the Army says they're investigating it. But activists throughout Texas, and now spreading throughout the United States, are saying that they want an independent investigation. They're calling for a congressional investigation into what happened to Vanessa Guillen. And that really goes into how the military handles sex crimes. People want to see changes in how that happens.

GREENE: Jolene Almendarez has been reporting on this story for Texas Public Radio. She joined us on Skype. Jolene, thank you.

ALMENDAREZ: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.