Hundreds Gathered On Tuesday To Demand Justice For Fort Hood Solider Vanessa Guillén At A Candlelight Vigil At City Hall.
All photos by Juan Betancourt
The Army’s handling of its investigation into the disappearance of 20-year-old specialist Vanessa Guillén has inspired national outcry — and those pangs rangs out on Tuesday night in Dallas as Latino community advocates gathered at Dallas City Hall to voice their concerns and mourn Guillén’s death.
Since April 22, Guillén had been missing from the Central Texas Army base; only last week, after two months of searching, did Army investigators find and identify her remains found by the Leon River near Fort Hood.
Demonstrators showed up to chant Guillén’s name while holding signs that read “Justice for Vanessa Guillén.” Others wore shirts featuring Guillén’s face. Still more stood somberly while holding candles lit in Guillén’s memory.
Dallas activist Carlos Quintanilla, president of the Hispanic advocacy organization Acción América, organized the vigil. During his turn during the night’s speeches, he told the crowd how the community should be angry about the Army’s investigation.
“There was no justice for the family of Vanessa Guillén,” Quintanilla said “Her mother pleaded with Fort Hood leadership, [saying] ‘Where is my daughter?’ — not once, not twice, but many times.”
Before Guillén’s disappearance, she had told her family that she was sexually harassed on base but afraid to report the incident to her superiors. Aaron Robinson, the main suspect in Guillén’s disappearance, killed himself when confronted by police over the matter. Another woman named Cecily Aguilar was later arrested as Robinson’s accomplice in Guillén’s murder.
Like Guillén, Army veteran Natalia Montoya told the Tuesday night Dallas crowd that she also experienced sexual harassment during her time in the military. Like many in the crowd — and nationally — Montoya demanded change in how investigators handle sexual assaults. She added that Fort Hood at large should be accountable for Guillén’s death.
“I was a pregnant soldier, and I had [a superior officer] who came up to me and did things to me that no pregnant woman should ever have to go through,” Montoya told the crowd. “But I survived; we are survivors.”
Speakers Aileen Teniente and Emily Grimaldo told the crowd of their time spent as Guillén’s soccer teammates at César E. Chávez High School in Houston, speaking to Guillén being a leader off and on the field who pushed herself for her family’s honor.
“She didn’t deserve what happened to her,” Teniente said. “She was so hard-working, so determined and we all thought the military was a good fit for her. But unfortunately they didn’t serve her. They didn’t protect her. They didn’t honor her.”
Added Grimaldo: “I knew her as a teammate, and [that] further became a friendship. I had the pleasure of meeting her and knowing the person that she was.”
Quintanilla said that he was pleased that the Dallas area’s Latino community turned out to show support for the cause. He hopes they continue to show up down the line, as his Acción América organization plans to hold a vigil at the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge for Guillén each and every Friday until Congress acts and meet the group’s demand for structural change within the Army’s approach to safety for its officers.
“We’re going to keep on marching,” Quintanilla said. “We’re going to keep on protesting. We are going to raise our voices in bigger numbers: louder, stronger, more determine, more committed to bring change.”