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Family, Friends Of Slain Soldier Vanessa Guillén Demand Reforms

The killing of U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, 20, has sparked a nationwide controversy about sexual assault and harassment in the military.

In a press conference on Monday in front of Dallas City Hall, local Hispanic advocates said the community needs to show their support for Guillén. They urged the North Texas community to attend Tuesday's candlelight vigil in memory of Guillén.

The Fort Hood-based soldier’s death has led to protests and vigils across Texas. 

While many popped fireworks during the Fourth of July weekend, others rallied the streets of downtown Houston and gathered on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas. In Fort Worth, local artists came together and painted a mural in memory of the soldier. 

"Vanessa is the lightning rod to the bigger problem in the military,” said Carlos Quintanilla, president of Acción América, a Hispanic advocacy organization. 

Guillén had been missing since April 22 from the Central Texas Army base. After two months, Guillén’s remains were found by the Leon River near Fort Hood. Investigators say the main suspect in the case is Specialist Aaron David Robinson. 

Robinson shot and killed himself last Wednesday as he was being approached by law enforcement.

Guillén’s family said she had told them and other service members Robinson was sexually harassing her, but she was too afraid of repercussions and did not report him. A month after Guillén went missing, Fort Hood officials announced in June that they were launching an investigation into her sexual harassment claims. However, protesters are saying the military's response was not enough. 

Carlos Quintanilla, president of the Hispanic advocacy group Acción América, spoke at the press conference on Monday.
Credit Keren Carrion / KERA News
Carlos Quintanilla, president of the Hispanic advocacy group Acción América, spoke at the press conference on Monday.

Hispanic advocates gathered at Dallas City Hall demanding justice. Quintanilla said he is angry with the way Guillén’s death has been handled.

"We will not stay silent. We will not allow another person to be a victim of sexual abuse," Quintanilla said in Spanish in front of a handful of people who showed up to the event. 

The press conference had a low turn out. Quintanilla blames the media in part for not providing "enough" coverage to Guillén’s story.

"We've noticed the lack of English media present at these events," he said. "I want to thank Univision and Telemundo for following this story from the beginning." 

Quintanilla said the lack of media presence is why Guillén’s story has not garnered national attention like George Floyd's case.

"They're equally important," Quintanilla said. "Let's support her, too." 

He, along with other advocates, are calling for a Congressional Investigation and a public statement. 

Guillén’s family is now pushing for legislation that would change the way military personnel report sexual assault and harassment allegations. So far, investigators have not found a connection. 

Quintanilla has organized a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 7 in Dallas.

"We need to stand up for Vanessa as Latinos together. Y'all need to stand up and make noise," said Dallas resident Liegea Lopez, 39.  "I'm tired of us Latinos just sitting down and not making things happen."

Lopez said she will be at the vigil tomorrow representing Guillén as a mother, tia, sister and Mexicana. She's urging the Dallas community to show up.  

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report for America corps member and writes about the economic impact of COVID-19 on marginalized communities for KERA News. Email her at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @_martinez_ale.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Denisse Benavides, 38, with La Monarca Foundation, and her daughter Ariah Contreras, 3, attended the press conference.
Denisse Benavides, 38, with La Monarca Foundation, and her daughter Ariah Contreras, 3, attended the press conference.

Copyright 2020 KERA

Alejandra Martinez is a reporter for KERA and The Texas Newsroom through Report for America (RFA). She's covering the impact of COVID-19 and its associated economic fallout on marginalized communities.