As young women in the military, Eli Morales and Eboni Davis were sickened when they first heard the story of Vanessa Guillén.
The 20-year-old Latina soldier’s family begged for answers after she went missing at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, Texas, and Morales and Davis found other Chicago military veterans equally disturbed by Guillén’s disappearance in their Facebook group for veterans.
The social media discussions led to a Fourth of July solidarity rally in Humboldt Park to support Guillén’s family.
But a day before Friday’s rally, authorities revealed that Guillén was killed on the Army base by a fellow soldier from south suburban Calumet City, who allegedly bludgeoned, dismembered then buried the body.
The soldier suspected in Guillén disappearance — 20-year-old Aaron David Robinson — killed himself when police tried to arrest him, authorities said.
“We had hoped she’d be found alive. But we wanted to gather veterans, the public and the community to show that we are watching, that Vanessa did not die in vain,” said 29-year-old Morales, who hails from Gurnee and is a sergeant in the Iowa National Guard.
Guillén’s family believes she had been sexually harassed on base, which the Army disputed.
“It’s crazy how her family was treated, and the families of so many others when they seek answers from the military about their family members,” Morales said.
Some 50 people turned out for Friday’s “CHI4Vanessa Rally” near the Illinois National Guard’s Northwest Armory, 1551 N. Kedzie Ave. Many carried posters bearing Guillén’s photo, and signs that read “Justice For Vanessa,” and “YoSoyVanessa.”
The crowd called for accountability, saying sexual harassment and abuse is pervasive in the military, and more often than not, gets swept under the rug.
“We stand in solidarity with the family, to bring awareness to the cultural injustices that women for the most part, and males too, face in the military,” said Carlos Luna, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, Council #5310 in Chicago.
“Military sexual trauma is a phenomenon that is rampant, but not spoken of nearly as much, and bears very little accountability, as we saw in this case. We’re really just supporting veterans here in Chicago who wanted to be heard.”
Guillén’s mother had heard about Chicago’s rally for her slain daughter and posted pictures from the event on social media.
“When her mother shared it, I said, ‘mission accomplished.’ We were really proud of that because we just wanted to let her know that other folks in other cities were standing with her, that she wasn’t alone,” said 31-year-old Davis, an Army Reserve specialist from Washington Park.
“Vanessa had been missing since April, and the family felt like they were at a dead end in getting answers. But with the George Floyd protests, the mother found her voice. ... We’re here to give each other that strength and let each other know that we all have a voice and we all have a right to use it to demand the answers that we seek and the changes that we deserve.”
Earlier in the week, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, sent a letter to Acting Department of Defense Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, calling for an investigation.
“The disappearance of Specialist Vanessa Guillén raises serious and alarming questions about the Army’s ability to prevent sexual harassment and assault, respond to criminal acts and provide justice for victims and their families,” Gillibrand wrote. “There must be a full and thorough investigation into Guillén’s disappearance, both to deliver justice and to initiate change in the Army’s approach to sexual assault in the military and the culture that enables it.”
Joe Biden also released a statement calling for accountability in the death.
“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,” Biden said.
Contributing: Pat Nabong and Lynn Sweet