KILLEEN, Texas — U.S. Army officials announced Tuesday that partial human remains have been found in the search for Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who vanished in April after telling her family she was being sexually harassed on the Texas military base.
Hours after that announcement, as U.S. Marshals and Killeen police officers closed in on a suspect, the man, an active duty junior soldier, turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger, police officials said Wednesday morning.
Attorney Natalie Kahwam, who is representing Guillen’s family, identified the man as Aaron David Robinson, though that identification has not been confirmed by Army officials.
Kahwam and Guillen’s family spoke from Washington, D.C., where they had traveled to demand a congressional investigation into wrongdoing at Fort Hood. They met with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who was present at a news conference the family held Wednesday.
Guillen’s sister, Mayra Guillen, said during the news conference that she had met and spoken to Robinson when she visited the base during the search for her sister. She said her instincts told her he was involved.
“I wasn’t wrong, apparently. He still had the nerve, that same day, to laugh in my face,” Mayra Guillen said, her voice quivering as she fought back tears. “And now he kills himself. Why, I don’t know. But whoever’s responsible has to pay.”
Watch the Guillen family’s news conference below, courtesy of CBS Dallas-Fort Worth.
Robinson’s fatal shooting took place in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue in Killeen, about 10 miles from Fort Hood.
A second suspect, the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier, is in custody awaiting charges by civilian authorities, Army officials confirmed.
“We have made significant progress in this tragic situation and are doing everything possible to get to the truth and bring answers to the family of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen,” said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID.
Guillen, a 20-year-old small arms and artillery repairer for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, was last seen April 22 in the parking lot of the Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters on Fort Hood.
“Her car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she was working earlier in the day,” a CID news release said. “She was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and purple fitness-type pants.”
After Guillen’s disappearance, the Army, aided by other agencies and search and rescue company Texas EquuaSearch, searched for Guillen daily. Fort Hood officials also announced that a team of investigators had been appointed to investigate her claims of sexual harassment.
Kahwam previously said at least one incident involved a superior officer walking in while Guillen was showering. He stayed and watched, she said.
Killeen police Chief Charles Kimble said Wednesday that Army CID investigators contacted Killeen detectives and the U.S. Marshals Lone Star Fugitive Task Force late Tuesday evening about a person of interest in Guillen’s disappearance. The soldier had fled the post and was believed to be within Killeen city limits.
“The suspect was located walking in the 4700 block of East Rancier Avenue,” the chief said. “As officers attempted to make contact with the suspect, he produced a weapon and committed suicide by shooting himself.”
Watch Killeen police Chief Charles Kimble speak about the shooting below.
He was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:17 a.m., Kimble said. The man’s name was withheld by the Army Wednesday morning pending notification of his next of kin.
Guillen’s presumed remains, which were identified as human by a forensic anthropologist, were found in an “area of interest” along the Leon River in Bell County, according to the Army CID.
“No confirmation as to the identity of the remains has been made at this point and we ask for the media and public’s understanding that the identification process can take time,” Army CID officials said in a news release.
Mayra Guillen said that while they don’t have confirmation, “everything points to it” being her sister’s body.
KWTX News 10 reported that the area had previously been searched but the grave was not found. A nearby resident who smelled a foul odor called the Bell County Sheriff’s Office, which led to the gruesome discovery.
The remains were in a shallow grave near the river.
Despite the lack of a positive identification, Tim Miller, founder of Texas Equusearch, told News 10 that the search for Guillen is over. Miller said the location where the remains were found showed no sign of the shallow grave.
Miller told Crime Stories with Nancy Grace that the remains were found encased in concrete. The fresh concrete was poured directly onto the body and the grave was covered with rocks.
Rain that fell after Guillen vanished likely helped settle the disturbed earth and hide the grave.
Miller said his team had previously found evidence in that same area, about 3 feet from where Guillen’s body was ultimately found.
“We were actually standing on top of little Vanessa’s body,” Miller said.
Listen to Tim Miller discuss the search for Vanessa Guillen below.
One item found in the area by the river was a heavy-duty plastic Pelican case, Miller said. Investigators also found a witness at Fort Hood who saw a man struggling to lift a similar case into his car around the time Guillen vanished.
“He was really struggling to go ahead and get this into his vehicle,” Miller said.
Miller said searchers later found the case, about 60% of it burned, in a burn pit by the Leon River.
“My biggest fear, Nancy, was that he threw her in the river and that maybe she would have never, ever been found,” Miller said.
When asked by a News 10 reporter what he would say to Guillen’s family, Miller got choked up. He said there are no words to describe what the family is and will be going through as they move forward.
“I told the family, I said that there’s no words or anything I can do at this time, no words or anything anyone can do at this time, to take your pain away,” Miller said. “That pain is real. It’s a huge, huge loss for a family.
“Not a damn reason in the world something like this should have happened. That family’s got a lot of grieving to do right now, and let me tell you people, that grieving process is long and painful.”
Watch KWTX News 10′s interview with Tim Miller below.
Guillen’s father and sisters joined Kahwam in Washington, D.C., where the attorney said the family believes the remains will prove to belong to Guillen.
“We believe that her remains were found,” Kahwam said. “We believe that the suspect had killed himself in the morning. And that, unfortunately, doesn’t provide us much information about how this happened, why this happened, why a beautiful young soldier is not with us today.”
Kahwam said military officials at the base “should be ashamed of themselves.”
“Protocol was breached in every manner,” the attorney said. “We lost one of our own on our own base. Unacceptable. It should never happen. Ever.
“Not just once. One person too many is what happened here.”
Kahwam pressed for Congress to act.
“This should never have happened,” the attorney said. “We will never know what happened, ever, until we get a congressional investigation. Because everything we were given was lies, it was evasive. They were not sincere. They were actually very disingenuous to us.
“I don’t know who’s covering up for who, but it doesn’t matter. We lost a life. We lost a beautiful young soldier. It’s time we fix our system.”
Kahwam said female soldiers should not have to fear coming forward about sexual harassment.
“Enough is enough,” she said.
Gabbard, herself an Army veteran, said she stood alongside Guillen’s family with “tremendous sadness.”
“We stand here for Vanessa,” Gabbard said. “We stand here for justice. We stand here for every other service member who has experienced sexual harassment or assault and did not feel safe reporting it, out of fear of retaliation.”
Gabbard said the Department of Defense has for years discussed reform in the ranks and has pushed some changes through, but that those changes are not enough.
“What is happening here today is evidence of that,” Gabbard said.
Lupe Guillen, the youngest of the Guillen sisters at 16, wept as she demanded justice for her sister.
“They lied to our faces every single day that passed. Every single day for more than two months. My sister, Vanessa Guillen, was sexually harassed, yet nothing was done to it,” Lupe Guillen said. “They didn’t keep my sister safe. They always try to cover up for each other. Why?
“My sister’s human, too. She deserves respect. She deserves to be heard.”