Slain US Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen’s memorial was held in the Texas high school she attended Friday, nearly four months after she disappeared.
Guillen. 20, disappeared from Fort Hood, where she was stationed, on April 22. Army officials confirmed July 6 that her remains had been found, with investigators saying she was bludgeoned to death with a hammer on base by a fellow soldier who later killed himself.
Prior to the start of the memorial, a hearse drove Guillen’s casket from a funeral home for a Veterans Memorial cruise in Houston, Texas, from 10.50am to noon, before her casket was put in a white, horse-drawn carriage.
Slain US Army specialist Vanessa Guillen’s casket was taken to her Houston high school for a final memorial by a horse-drawn carriage early Friday afternoon after doing a Veterans Memorial cruise in a hearse around the city in the morning
At the high school, the carriage did several laps around the soccer field, to honor her having played the sport there
Guillen’s aunt Alma Garcia (center), Guillen’s fiance, Juan Cruz (in white shirt), and other relatives hug inside the memorial
Guillen’s aunt, Alma Garcia (second from left), becomes emotional at the public memorial service which began at noon Friday
Rosa Samaniego holds a sign demanding justice for Guillen while attending her memorial service at the high school
US, Texas and Mexico flags flew at half staff Friday as the carriage brought the custom green casket that carried Guillen’s remains to her former high school, Cesar Chavez High School in Houston, for her memorial service.
Once at the high school, the carriage drove around the soccer field several times, in honor of her time playing soccer there, ABC 13 reported.
Guillen had grown up in Houston, playing soccer and dreaming of joining the military.
‘She´s very happy where she is next to God and the Virgin Mary,’ her sister, Lupe Guillen said. ‘We are not here for justice or politics today. We are here to remember, honor and respect Vanessa Guillen and her beautiful life, her tender heart and her beautiful face.’
In a private moment just before entering the school’s auditorium – where flowers in green and yellow hues, balloons, religious images and pictures of Guillen adorned the stage – family and friends walked behind the casket, accompanying Guillen on a last lap around the field she frequented as a teenager.
Military personnel carry Guillen’s casket from a horse-drawn carriage to Cesar Chavez High School for her memorial
Guillen’s casket is shown being removed from the horse-drawn carriage before being taken inside her former high school
Ladies from the Queen of Peace Church walk to the stage to pray the rosary during Guillen’s Catholic memorial service
Guillen’s casket, decorated with American and Mexican flags, is viewed at her public memorial service on Friday afternoon
Guillen had grown up playing soccer and had dreamed of joining the military. She is pictured in uniform at left and right
Guillen (center) disappeared from Fort Hood on April 22. Her burned and dismembered remains were found on June 30
Guillen’s (pictured at left and right) relatives said she disappeared after telling them she was being sexually harassed at the base and that she was too scared to come forward about it
Guillen’s mother and grandmother grasped each other as they prayed over the casket through sobs.
Standing in front of the casket, Guillen’s grandmother shared a story about the chocolates she carried in her purse. She said they were her granddaughter’s favorite, and she brought them for her from Mexico every visit.
Her last memory of her granddaughter is from December, when Guillen was leaving for work and turned back, gave her a hug and money and told her to buy herself a treat, a soda, or something she liked that was just for her to enjoy.
‘Now, I am here to lay these, her favorite chocolates, at my Vanessita’s grave,’ Guillen’s grandmother said in Spanish.
Guillen’s best friend, Jocelyn Sierra, said they met at Cesar Chavez High School five years ago. She said although it has been 114 days since Guillen died, she feels her presence with her every day.
Sierra said the last time she saw Guillen was a week before she went missing, when they ate pizza together and watched the movie G.I. Jane.
The Roman Catholic memorial service started at noon and was open to the public and streamed online. It involved praise sessions, prayers and testimonials, with guests including U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia and friends of the Guillen family.
Guillen’s remains will be laid to rest after a private ceremony Saturday.
Guillen’s April 22 disappearance from Fort Hood came on the heels of her telling relatives that she had been sexually harassed while stationed at the Army base but too afraid to come forward about it, her family had said.
Police officers look on as Guillen’s casket is driven in a horse-drawn carriage around Cesar Chavez High School
Police officers salute as Guillen’s casket is driven past them on Friday afternoon in Houston
A female member of the military holds flowers as she pays her respects to Guillen at the memorial service Friday afternoon
Lupe Guillen, Guillen’s youngest sister rides on a horse-drawn carriage as it made a final lap around the high school
Gloria Guillen (center in white), Guillen’s mother, arrives for her daughter’s memorial service at Cesar Chavez High School
Lorenza Almanza (right), Guillen’s grandmother, traveled from Mexico to attend her granddaughter’s memorial services
Lupe Guillen, Guillen’s sister, stands at the podium and speaks during her memorial service at Cesar Chavez High Schoo
Her burned and dismembered remains were found in Belton, Texas, on June 30 and officially identified on July 6.
Cecily Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, Texas, now faces one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, connected with Guillen’s murder. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Aguilar was arrested on July 1, the same day that Army specialist Aaron Robinson, 20, fatally shot himself as investigators closed in on him as a suspect in Guillen’s death.
According to reports, Robinson was either Aguilar’s estranged husband or boyfriend.
Guillen’s family alleged that she was sexually harassed by the soldier suspected of killing her, but the Army has said there is no evidence of that.
The Army’s investigators found that although Guillen appeared to have suffered harassment, including some comments which were sexual in nature, neither the harassment nor the comments stemmed from Robinson.
The Army said that Guillen and Robinson were not in the same command and did not work in the same building. Investigators also said that they couldn’t find any evidence of a relationship between Guillen and Robinson, other than a professional one, following examinations of phone records and text messages.
Still, Guillen’s story has renewed a push for changes in the way the military handles sexual abuse and harassment from Fort Hood to Capitol Hill.
Natalie Khawam, who is representing the Guillen family, said the family is thankful to President Donald Trump because the White House helped to expedite the process of giving Guillen’s remains to relatives so they could have a funeral.
Members of Guillen’s family met with Trump at the White House in July to ask for his help in investigating her death, during which time the president said that he would commit his own money to assist with Guillen’s funeral expenses if necessary.
‘If you need help with the funeral financially, I will help,’ Trump told them on July 30.
It’s unclear what, if any, portion of Guillen’s memorial service Trump might’ve contributed to.
Trump also told Guillen’s family that, in addition to Fort Hood authorities, the FBI and Department of Justice were involved in the investigation and that ‘We didn’t want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen,’ KVIA reported.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy ordered an independent review of the command climate at Fort Hood following Guillen’s slaying.
Members of Congress have joined advocates for women demanding systemic shifts in military culture. Some have invoked the hashtag #NiUnaMas, meaning ‘not one more woman dead,’ a rallying cry in Mexico against the killing of women.