The True Story Behind Netflix's I Am Vanessa Guillen

Netflix's true crime department, which has been especially busy lately, has now turned its attention to another murder that shocked America in 2020
IMAGE NETFLIX

I Am Vanessa Guillén – directed by Christy Wegener – reveals the story behind the killing of the 20-year-old soldier Vanessa Guillén on an army base in Texas. What was even more shocking was that her murderer was a fellow soldier, and her family had to battle to get justice for their daughter.

Wegener says: “At the core, this is a story about overcoming the greatest odds imaginable in the name of family, love and justice. This is David vs. Goliath on steroids. Taking on the U.S. military, one of the largest, most powerful institutions in America is no easy feat. In making the film, it was incredible to witness a family, in the most tragic moment of their lives, put their grief aside, step out into the public arena and fight for the greater good.”

What Happened in the Case?

Guillén was born in Houston, Texas in 1999 to her parents, Rogelio and Gloria Guillén. She was a high achiever at school and excelled at sports, and she signed up for the United States Army in June 2018.

In the army, she trained as a 91F, Small Arms and Artillery Repairer, and was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, a 300-square mile site that has been used since 1942.

But on April 22, 2020, Guillén was reported as missing. As reported by CNN, she was last seen wearing a black T-shirt and purple fitness-type pants, and “her car keys, room key, identification card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she was working earlier that day.” The publication also noted that the army “initially offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to her whereabouts, but it has since increased the reward to up to $25,000”.

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However, when Guillén went missing, her mother revealed that she had told her family that she had been sexually harassed by an unnamed soldier at Fort Hood. According to the actor Salma Hayak, who helped with the missing person campaign: “When her mother advised her to report him, Vanessa said other women had reported him and they were not believed.”

Two months later, she still hadn’t been found. A lawyer for the Guillén family, Natalie Khawam told CBS News that she believed the family were being kept in the dark: “This shouldn't be happening. This is on a federal government base. A military base. There has to be more accountability. And [there are] more protections and safeguards than anywhere else. How can you not have these answers?”

Photo by Netflix.

Was Vanessa Guillén Found?

On June 30, human remains were found along the Leon river in Belton, Texas. These were later confirmed to belong to Guillén. Prior to the remains being found, the army had interviewed two suspects: the 20-year-old soldier Aaron David Robinson and his girlfriend (an estranged wife of another soldier), 22-year-old Cecily Anne Aguilar.

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Police brought in Aguilar for questioning again, and she told them that Robinson had confessed to her that he had killed a female soldier at Fort Hood. According to a later affidavit, at the request of law enforcement, “Aguilar placed a controlled telephone call to Robinson, who said, 'Baby, they found pieces', to which he never denied anything in response.”

On hearing Guillén had been discovered, Robinson fled the custody of his unit, where he had been put under guard on the pretense of violating Covid-19 quarantine. Robinson was on the run for several hours before Killeen police located him, and Robinson shot and killed himself before he could be taken into custody.

Aguilar was taken into custody and is alleged to have assisted Robinson in dismembering and burying Guillén's body. On July 2, 2020, Aguilar was charged with one federal count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and a year later, she was indicted on eleven counts by a federal grand jury. She is due in court on January 23, 2023.

Guillén’s Legacy

Since Guillén's death, her family have called for justice and improvement of the way claims of sexual harassment are handled by the military. In December 2020, following an investigation,14 U.S. commanders and other leaders at Fort Hood were disciplined for multiple “leadership failures”. The investigation found that there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment at Fort Hood.

In January 2022, President Biden signed an Executive Order that established sexual harassment as a specific offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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'I Am Vanessa Guillen' is out now on Netflix

FromEsquire UK

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