‘You deserve it’: Vanessa Guillen’s sister sounds off on Army firings at Fort Hood

HOUSTON – Vanessa Guillen’s sister Lupe Guillen called out fired Army officials by name in a news conference Tuesday in Houston saying at least one person “deserved it.”

The firings include Army Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was left in charge of the base earlier this year when Guillen was killed, as well as Col. Ralph Overland, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment commander and his Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Knapp. Among those suspended were Maj. Gen. Jeffery Broadwater, the 1st Cavalry Division commander, and his Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas C. Kenny. The administrative actions are expected to trigger investigations that could lead to a wide range of punishments. Those punishments could go from a simple letter of reprimand to a military discharge.

The Army did not provide the names of the other lower-ranking soldiers who face possible discipline.

““The toxic leadership -- thank God that those leaders at Fort Hood -- 14 of them -- were removed,” Lupe Guillen said. “And Efflandt deserved it because he ignored us, every single (time)‚” she said. “Overland -- he was so disrespectful throughout this process. And I’m sorry to say this ... but you deserved it. And I hope for Vanessa’s line of command will be investigated and held accountable.”

Members of Guillen’s family, as well as Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and businessman Tilman Fertitta held a news conference Tuesday in Houston concerning the special investigation into Fort Hood.

“I always hear the same, protect our women,” Lupe Guillen said. “We cannot protect our women, if we don’t respect our women. I’m not saying this as a victim of this crime. I’m saying this as a woman, as someone who wanted to sign up for the military.”

At one point she directly addressed U.S. Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy whom the family spoke with prior to the news conference, which Lupe Guillen noted was eight months after her sister’s murder.

“If Mr. McCarthy actually watches this, I hope you actually endorse the ‘I am Vanessa Guillen’ (Act of 2020),” she said. “Because in my mind, you don’t have to read it to support it, because you just hear Vanessa Guillen you hear her murder and her disappearance and her sexual harassment and I hope ... Congress takes action because this is needed. This is not about your political views. This is about human issues, just like Vanessa, and we don’t want another soldier going missing. We don’t want another victim of sexual harassment and of murder. And for suicide rates to go down. We are not going to stop.”

Read the “I am Vanessa Guillen Act of 2020.”

Lupe Guillen said the act will “keep (her) sister’s legacy alive” and it will save lives.

14 Fort Hood soldiers fired, suspended over violence at base

TIMELINE: Vanessa Guillen - These are the dates to know about her case

Attorney Natalie Khawam said she doesn’t like to throw darts, apparently referring to Lupe Guillen’s criticism of the length of time it took McCarthy to speak to the family via Zoom, however she acknowledged that the family “has every right to be disappointed.” The family would like to meet with McCarthy in person.

“We’re not finished, we’re just starting,” Khawam said, citing her ongoing and repeated efforts to push for legislation in Washington at the highest levels of power, naming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Policy is great, but can be changed every day.”

Khawam said she started looking into Fort Hood about mold in the military homes and then went on to Guillen’s case.

“There’s a lot of great families -- military families -- that have suffered because of the toxicity at that base but unfortunately the toxicity isn’t just in the homes, it’s in the command and when someone speaks up and they get punished for speaking up that’s un-American,” Khawam said. “It was widespread at Fort Hood, so things aren’t complete. They’re not finalized. We’re not finished. We’re just starting.”

Khawam said she’s looking for what policies they’re going to implement, how they’re going to handle these wrongs.

“Are they going to right all these wrongs? And will they support passage of legislation to permanently fix this?” she said. “You know, policy is great, but policy can be changed every day. Legislation can’t be changed every day. It takes an act of Congress -- you know that saying it takes an act of God or it takes an act of Congress, that’s why I go right for the jugular there. I want to make sure that we change it permanently and it doesn’t happen again.” The Guillen Family said their fight for justice is not over. They are imploring members of Congress to pass the “I Am Vanessa Guillen Act” which is designed to protect soldiers by ensuring independent investigations occur in sexual harassment and sexual assault cases to better safeguard soldiers from retaliation.

Vanessa Guillen went missing on April 22. According to Cecily Ann Aguilar, Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, killed Guillen that day “by striking her in the head with a hammer while on Ft. Hood,” and then Augilar said she helped him mutilate and dispose of Guillen’s body. Guillen’s remains were found on June 30 near Leon River in Bell County. Robinson, the soldier suspected in Guillen’s slaying, died by suicide on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody.

Officials identified the two suspects tied to Fort Hood solider Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance on July 2. Aguilar, 22, was charged in connection with the disappearance of Guillen. Officials said Aguilar is Robinson’s estranged wife. Aguilar was charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

The Army confirmed on July 6 that Guillen’s remains were those found along the Leon River.

A number of investigations ensued over the months. For a closer look at the timeline of the case, go here.

About the Authors:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.