Wearing T-shirts with her image, holding homemade signs of all types with her picture, and paying homage to a makeshift altar set up in her honor, dozens of people gathered in Pacoima to demand justice for Vanessa Guillen, a US Army soldier whose death and disappearance has become a national tragedy.
“I’m a mother of girls, too, and I understand a mother’s heart,” said Maria Tapia, on how the case has impacted her. “They need to hear us out. We want justice for her.”
Tapia came to the July 11 rally at the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Osborne Street with her young daughters and her mother, all wearing black T-shirts with Guillen’s image on them.
Her mother, Jessica Jimenez, said Guillen’s death had caused another of her daughters to change her plans to join the Army.
“She felt scared with all that’s going on,” said the Van Nuys resident. “I supported her in the beginning, but then I also felt scared and I didn’t want her to (join).”
“I hope they get everyone involved and that they pay.”
Guillen, 20, disappeared from Fort Hood, Texas on April 22. Her remains were found on June 30, about 30 miles from the Army base.
Investigators say she was bludgeoned to death with a hammer. The lead suspect in the case, fellow soldier Aaron David Robinson, committed suicide on July 1 when confronted by authorities.
Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was arrested for allegedly helping him dispose of Guillen’s body by burning it. She is charged with one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence and pleaded not guilty before a federal judge in Waco, TX on Tuesday, July 14.
Guillen’s family has accused the Army of dragging its feet in the investigation, only reacting after the media and activists started to cover the case.
Her family also says Guillen had told them she was sexually harassed, but so far there is no proof she ever made an official complaint about that.
However, her case has become a #Metoo movement for the armed forces, where such harassment is a continuing problem. According to a recent report (https://bit.ly/38Rop3M) by the Department of Defense, there were 6,236 sexual assaults recorded in the military in 2019.
Guillen’s murder has even reached the presidential race. Presumptive Democratic candidate for President Joe Biden said on July 3 that “we owe it to those who put on the uniform, and to their families, to put an end to sexual harassment and assault in the military, and hold perpetrators accountable.”
Under pressure, the Secretary of the Army ordered an “independent and comprehensive” review of the command climate at Ford Hood.
Angelica Dueñas supports such review.
“We demand an independent investigation into the mistreatment and crimes, and immediate action on the cover-up of these crimes,” she said.
With Aztec dancers, chants of “Que Viva Vanessa” and “Que Viva la Mujer,” people heard from local activists and also held a moment of silence for Guillen and her family.
Nohely Martinez, 33, carried a large sign with Guillen’s photos and calls for justice.
“I’m a woman, and women should not be taken advantage of. It’s very shameful for our country that this woman is trying to risk her life for this country, and this is the way we pay her back,” Martinez said.
“It’s really unfair. It really impacted me,” she added.
But it’s not just women affected by the tragedy.
“She was one of us, an American who died in the safest place you should have been and it’s sad. We are here for her family,” said Luis Cuevas, who carried a sign.
For him, the only justice is when “everyone that was responsible and knew about it gets convicted.”
Gilbert Saldivar attended a similar rally in Hollywood before heading to Pacoima to lend his support.
He said he hails from the same Houston neighborhood where Guillen lived.
“It just hits super close to home,” Salvidar said. “I felt like I had to do something, no matter how small. It’s unbelievable that lack of respect for her, for her family.
“If we would not have made noise, they probably still wouldn’t have been looking for her. It’s just a lack of respect for our people,” he said.