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Mourners gather in Houston to remember slain soldier Vanessa Guillen

A small memorial for Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen is set up around Cesar Chavez High School.
A small memorial for Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen is set up around Cesar Chavez High School in Houston on Friday. Investigators said Guillen was bludgeoned to death on base by a fellow soldier, who later killed himself.
(Steve Gonzales / Houston Chronicle)

Flags from the U.S., Texas and Mexico flew at half-staff as a white, horse-drawn carriage embellished with white flowers carried in the casket holding the remains of a slain soldier.

Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen was memorialized Friday, nearly four months after authorities said she was killed by a fellow soldier at Ft. Hood. Mourners gathered at Cesar Chavez High School in Houston, where Guillen grew up playing soccer and dreaming of joining the military.

“She’s very happy where she is next to God and the Virgin Mary,” said Lupe Guillen, Vanessa’s sister. “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 custom green casket, accompanying Guillen on a last lap around the field she frequented as a teenager. Guillen’s mother and grandmother grasped each other and sobbed as they prayed over the casket.

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The Roman Catholic service was open to the public and was being streamed online. The memorial was scheduled to last until 8 p.m., with praise sessions, prayers and testimonials.

Guillen’s death has renewed a push from Ft. Hood to Capitol Hill for changes in the way the military handles sexual abuse and harassment.

Natalie Khawam, who is representing the Guillen family, said the soldier’s relatives were thankful to President Trump because the White House helped to expedite the release of Guillen’s remains so they could have a funeral.

Guillen disappeared from Ft. Hood, about 200 miles northwest of Houston, where she was stationed, on April 22. After weeks of searching, Army officials confirmed July 6 that her remains had been found. Investigators said she was bludgeoned to death on base by a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, who later killed himself, according to a federal complaint.

Civilian Cecily Aguilar, 22, is charged with a federal count of conspiracy to destroy evidence in helping dispose of the body. She has pleaded not guilty and is being held at the Bell County Jail.

Guillen’s family has said she was sexually harassed by Robinson, but the Army has said there is no evidence of that.

The Army is investigating Guillen’s death and Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy has ordered an independent review of the command climate at Ft. Hood.

Members of Congress have joined women’s advocates demanding systemic shifts in military culture. Some have invoked the Spanish hashtag #NiUnaMas, meaning “Not one more,” a rallying cry in Mexico against the killing of women.


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