Officials shared new details Thursday from the investigation into the slaying of 20-year-old Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Three soldiers testified to investigators that they had seen Guillen leaving the arms room where authorities say she was killed on April 22, throwing the investigation off track for weeks, officials told ABC News.
“They filled out affidavits that said they had seen Vanessa at a different time from when she had actually departed the other arms room. So that gave … essentially an instant alibi for Spc. Robinson, even though they had not really known the correct time of when she had actually departed and headed to the parking lot,” Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told TV news show “20/20.” “The trail went cold for about a month.”
More than five weeks passed between Guillen’s disappearance and the location of her remains, in part because the testimony of the three soldiers, who were reportedly smoking outside at the time, led investigators to search in the wrong location.
“We have to find answers and we will hold people accountable,” McCarthy told “20/20.”
McCarthy and Fort Hood officials were not immediately available for comment on whether the testimonies are believed to have been intentionally misleading and if the three soldiers are among those McCarthy hopes to hold accountable.
Guillen, a small arms repairer, went missing after leaving her armory to confirm weapon serial numbers at an armory controlled by Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, a criminal complaint against Robinson’s girlfriend stated.
According to investigators, Robinson killed Guillen with a hammer in the arms room and then contacted girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, 22, for assistance disposing of the body. Witnesses later recalled seeing Robinson wheel a seemingly heavy “tough box” from the armory and load it into his vehicle.
Investigators found discrepancies between the stories told by Robinson and Aguilar and the mounting evidence including phone calls between the two even though they initially claimed to have been together the entire night of April 22.
After investigators discovered human remains adjacent to the Leon River in Belton, Texas on June 30, Aguilar confessed to helping her boyfriend burn, dismember, and dispose of Guillen’s body. Robinson shot and killed himself when approached by law enforcement the next day.
Guillen’s death and subsequent murder investigation triggered a series of investigations at Fort Hood including a review of the post’s command climate by the FBI and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and an investigation by Gen. John Murray, commander of Army Futures Command, into actions taken by commanders following Guillen’s disappearance.
Pending the results of the investigation, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, prior commander of Fort Hood, will remain at Fort Hood instead of taking command of the 1st Armored Division as previously planned.
“We have an investigation ongoing at Fort Hood, and we want to make sure the investigation is complete before we move the officer,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said on Sept. 1.
Guillen’s is the not the only recent death to occur at Fort Hood. The post has made recent headlines for its high number of soldier deaths and disappearances. Local news reported 26 deaths so far in 2020, including five homicides, six suicides, eight accidents, and five deceased with undetermined causes of death.
On Sept. 8, members of Congress announced their own investigation into the string of deaths at Fort Hood.
A letter from the chairs of two House panels declared that they would be “jointly investigating whether an alarming pattern of recent tragedies at Fort Hood, Texas, may be symptomatic of underlying leadership, discipline, and morale deficiencies throughout the chain-of-command.”
McCarthy told “20/20” that it’s clear the Army let Guillen’s family down over the course of the investigation.
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he's also in the Army ROTC program.