Vanessa Guillén's Fiancé Hopes Her Murder Will Create Changes in the Military
"She is my hero," Vanessa Guillén's fiancé Juan Cruz tells PEOPLE. "Because of her, a lot of people are speaking up"
It has been just over one year since the tragic murder of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén, and her fiancé hopes her death will create changes in how the military operates.
"We don't want another family to go through what happened to us," says Juan Cruz, 22. "We don't want that to ever, ever happen again."
Vanessa, 20, was last seen alive on April 22, 2020, on the Fort Hood installation. Her remains were found 69 days later on June 30 along the Leon River in Belton, Tx. She had been murdered and then mutilated.
The main suspect, Army Specialist Aaron Robinson, killed himself when confronted by police just hours after Vanessa's remains were found. Authorities arrested his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar who is accused of helping to cover up Vanessa's murder and dispose of her body.
She has pleaded not guilty. A trial date has yet to be set.
"How can this happen inside of a military base?" Juan says. "That's how they treat their people? They're fighting for this country. I thought they were one of the safest places someone can be in."
Since her death, Vanessa's family, who have said she told them she was sexually harassed by a fellow soldier, have been pushing for change in the military and are calling for federal legislation.
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The I Am Vanessa Guillén Act would create a new system for reporting and investigating sexual harassment and assault in the military, putting trained professionals outside an accuser's chain of command in charge. It would also change the way the military handles missing persons cases and give sexual assault survivors who are service members the right to make civil claims against the military. Currently, service members have no such recourse.
"Isn't there something wrong with this?" says Guillén family attorney Natalie Khawam, founder of the Whistleblower Law Firm. "You're not afraid to die for our country, but you're afraid to report sexual harassment? The system is broken."
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Vanessa's sister Mayra is also starting a foundation that will bring awareness about the issues of sexual harassment and abuse in the military and help provide services for those affected.
"We don't want what happened to my sister to happen to any other military member ever again," says Mayra. "I think this story is more than enough to show that there needs to be change in the way that we handle the sexual harassment and assault, and I feel like it's our responsibility now to help those that need it."
Juan, who plans to be involved in the foundation, says Vanessa's legacy will live on through the proposed bill and the foundation.
"She is my hero," he says. "Because of her, a lot of people are speaking up. And I know she's proud. She will always be remembered. That's what she wanted, to help people."
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