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President Donald Trump met with the family of slain U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, telling them he’ll make sure justice is served after her dismembered, burned body was found near Fort Hood, Texas, where she was stationed.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it,” the president pledged during an Oval Office meeting with her parents, two sisters, and a family attorney, adding he’ll investigate Guillen’s death “very powerfully.”
The 20-year-old soldier was last seen in a Fort Hood parking lot April 22.
The president said that the Justice Department, FBI, and investigators at Fort Hood were all involved in identifying Guillen’s killer. Also, earlier this month Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced that he was ordering an independent probe of the command climate at Fort Hood.
I had the opportunity to sit down with @LULAC and Congress to discuss the loss of SPC. Vanessa Guillen. I am directing an independent & comprehensive review of the command climate and culture. We have to listen in order to create enduring change. pic.twitter.com/pMuugTKgWz
— SecArmy (@SecArmy) July 10, 2020
“We didn’t want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen,” the president said, telling the family that “financially, I’ll help you” with funeral expenses.
Army investigators found Guillen’s remains two months after she had gone missing. One of the suspects in her disappearance and murder, a fellow Army soldier also stationed at Fort Hood, committed suicide by shooting himself as police prepared to arrest him, NBC News reported.
Another woman whom investigators identified as his girlfriend was subsequently arrested. Cecily Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, Texas, has pleaded not guilty to federal evidence tampering charges. She is charged with helping mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body.
The network added in a separate report that Army Spc. Aaron David Robinson allegedly told Aguilar he killed a female soldier by striking her in the head with a hammer.”
“While law enforcement agencies attempted to make contact with the suspect in Killeen, Texas, Specialist Robinson reportedly displayed a weapon and took his own life,” Damon Phelps with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) said.
Guillen’s family told the president that Guillen them and other soldiers she had been sexually harassed before she went missing.
The family asked President Trump to support a bill named after a hashtag #IamVanessaGuillen, which encouraged military women to share any experiences with sexual assault or harassment they have experienced. The legislation sets up a third-party agency that would serve as a conduit for active-duty military members to report sexual assault allegations instead of having to go through their chain of command.
In discussing the legislation with Trump, family attorney Natalie Khawam said the third-party agency could resemble something like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which serves to protect employees from workplace discrimination.
“We’re looking for something that’s going to allow our military, our soldiers, to have the same rights or protections so that way they’re not going to their chain of command or internally,” she said.
The military already requires mandatory annual sexual assault training for all members. The Army, in particular, established Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) in 2017 to serve as points of contact for alleged victims.
In addition, “Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) professionals work with commanders and unit personnel to raise awareness and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent sexual offenses,” the Army’s SARC website notes.
One of Guillen’s sisters told the president that it’s a “disgrace that when you get sexually harassed you have to report on to your line of command… so you wouldn’t have the confidence nor the trust to report it.” She added her sister never formally reported the alleged assault “because she was afraid of the retaliation or afraid of judgment.”
In response, the president said that Guillen’s alleged harassment was “probably, sadly not that unique.” He did not say whether he would sign the legislation, however.
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