U.S. Army officials at Fort Hood held a news briefing Monday evening to honor Spc. Vanessa Guillen, after confirming that the search for her since April had ended with the identification of her partial remains discovered near the massive Texas post.
"Sadly, I stand here to report that the search for Spc. Vanessa Guillen has resulted in the very outcome that I had prayed it would not have from there very beginning," Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, deputy commander of III Corps and Fort Hood, said during the brief news conference.
Army officials briefed Guillen's family on Sunday that the human remains found in Bell County were identified through DNA analysis to be Guillen's, Efflandt said.
"We are now confronted with the aftermath of one of the most heinous acts I can imagine," Efflandt said.
Guillen, a 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier who disappeared April 22, was allegedly murdered by Army Spc. Aaron Robinson, according to a July 2 criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office Western District of Texas.
Robinson shot and killed himself last Tuesday when confronted by area police. Two days later, federal authorities filed a criminal complaint charging 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, a civilian and the estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier, with conspiracy to tamper with evidence in the disappearance of Guillen.
Robinson told Aguilar that he killed Guillen "by striking her in the head with a hammer" while on-post April 22, and smuggled her body to a remote site in Bell County, according to the complaint. Aguilar allegedly then helped Robinson mutilate and dispose of Guillen's body.
"There are no words that can convey the sense of loss for her family, her friends and her fellow soldiers that I feel during this tremendously difficult time," Efflandt said. "We all feel her loss, the loss of a vibrant young woman who bravely volunteered to serve her country, the loss of a talented soldier, the loss of a loving family member and the loss of a bright future ahead of her."
Col. Ralph Overland, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said the death of Guillen has "left a hole in our formation."
"Vanessa Guillen was a warrior, highly trained and proficient in her duties," he said. "She was strong, courageous and caring."
Overland said he has spoken with many of Guillen's fellow soldiers from units across the regiment who have expressed their feelings for her.
"I could see the intense sadness in their faces, and hear it in their voices," Overland said. "They miss their friend and spoke of her qualities as a person and a professional soldier. All described Vanessa as very caring, dedicated to her profession and an expert in her craft."
Efflandt said that everyone at Fort Hood knows that "our pain pales in comparison to that being endured by the Guillen family."
Moving forward, the Army will assist the U.S. district attorney for the Western District of Texas as that office takes the lead in investigating and prosecuting those suspected in Guillen's murder, Efflandt said.
The Army will also "complete the ongoing investigation into sexual harassment and take action against those findings," he said.
"Please know that every person that raises their right hand to serve their family and their country in uniform deserves to be safe and treated with dignity and respect," Efflandt said.
Natalie Khawam, an attorney representing Guillen's family, has alleged that Robinson sexually harassed Guillen before he murdered her. Fort Hood and Army Criminal Investigation Command officials said Thursday that there is no credible evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual harassment.
Efflandt took no questions from the news media at the briefing.
"To the victims of sexual harassment and assault, we hear you, we believe you and encourage you to come forward," Efflandt said. "The Army will not stop its efforts to eradicate sexual harassment and sexual assault until it no longer exists in our formations."
On Saturday, a group of female veterans launched a petition calling on Congress to shut down Fort Hood and fire the chain of command for its handling of Guillen's case.
Efflandt also said that he will continue to seek external review to "ensure that any shortcomings during this troubling time are thoroughly identified and addressed as appropriate."
"We will honor Vanessa and her memory as part of our Army," Efflandt said. "She is part of our history and she will not be forgotten."
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.