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Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Family of missing Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen accuse Army of 'covering up for each other' and demand Senate inquiry after two sets of human remains are found near the base just 10 days apart

  • Volunteer group searching for missing Pfc Vanessa Guillen, 20, found remains near Kileen, Texas, on Saturday 
  • Discovery was made near location where soldier Gregory Wedel-Morales' remains were located June 19 
  • Guillen was last seen at the Fort Hood Army Base on April 22 and left behind her car keys, identification card and wallet 
  • The 20-year-old had told her family she was sexually harassed by her supervisors before disappearing
  • Family's lawyer is calling on FBI to take over investigation and is asking US Senate to open its own inquiry 
  • Attorney accused military leaders of 'covering up for each other' and not being forthcoming with information 
  • Army responded by saying everything is being done to find Guillen  
The family of US Army soldier Vanessa Guillen who has been missing for more than two months are demanding an independent federal investigation and a Senate inquiry after accusing the military of a cover-up.
Pfc Guillen, 20, was last seen on April 22 at the Fort Hood Army Base in Kileen, Texas.
Over the weekend, a volunteer group participating in the search for Guillen discovered human remains in Corywell County, not far from the location where the remains of missing solider Gregory Wedel-Morales were found on June 19, about 10 months after he vanished from Fort Hood.
Vanessa Guillen
Vanessa Guillen
Vanessa Guillen, 20, was reported missing from Fort Hood on April 22 shortly after she told her family she was being sexually harassed and felt unsafe. She was last seen in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters at the Killeen, Texas, base around 1pm 
Volunteers looking for Guillen on Saturday found human remains in an undisclosed area in Coryell County, not too far from the site where the remains of missing soldier Gregory Wedel-Morales were found on June 19
Volunteers looking for Guillen on Saturday found human remains in an undisclosed area in Coryell County, not too far from the site where the remains of missing soldier Gregory Wedel-Morales were found on June 19
The remains recovered on Saturday were secured by homicide investigators and transported to the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas. So far, they have not been identified as belonging to Guillen, and the search for the soldier continues.
Military investigators have said they suspect foul play in Guillen's disappearance, but her family believe not enough is being done to get to the bottom of what happened, and now they want the FBI or another federal agency to take over the case.
‘They're not here to help us find Vanessa,’ family attorney Natalie Khawam told CBS News. ‘They're here to hoard that information because they don't want us knowing what's happened...they're covering up for each other.'
According to the attorney and Guillen's sister, Vanessa had privately accused an unnamed sergeant of sexually harassing her and claimed she felt unsafe on the Army base shortly before she disappeared.
Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family's attorney, is asking the FBI to take over the case and is calling on the US Senate to open an inquiry into Vanessa's disappearance
Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family's attorney, is asking the FBI to take over the case and is calling on the US Senate to open an inquiry into Vanessa's disappearance 
Vanessa's mother, Gloria
Vanessa's sister said the 20-year-old had complained about being sexually harassed by two superiors not long before she vanished
Vanessa's mother, Gloria (left), and her sister (right) said the 20-year-old had complained about being sexually harassed by two superiors not long before she vanished 
The harassment allegedly involved two superiors, one of whom was said to have walked in on Guillen showering, and another who purportedly made vulgar comments to her in Spanish, according to Khawam.
Guillen never reported the harassment allegations to the military for fear of retaliation, the attorney said.
The Army has said that its criminal investigation unit has ‘no credible information or reports that Vanessa was sexually assaulted.’
Facing mounting pressure from Guillen family and advocates, the military last week released a statement, saying that investigators 'are not aware of any report of sexual harassment form Pfc Guillen or any other Solider on her behalf.'
The statement went on to say: 'However, we are looking at all possibilities and have not ruled anything in or out. Fort Hood has opened an investigation into reports of sexual harassment that the Guillen family has reported.'
A spokesperson for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command stated that everything possible is being done to find Guillen.
So far, the remains found near Fort Hood have not been identified as belonging to Guillen, and the search for the soldier continues
So far, the remains found near Fort Hood have not been identified as belonging to Guillen, and the search for the soldier continues
‘This is not just a law enforcement investigation of a missing person, but a full-scale operation to find one of our own and bring her back,’ the CID statement read. ‘There is obviously investigative information we cannot share with the public to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation. We will not stop until we find Vanessa and we ask that anyone with information to please do the right thing and contact Army CID.’
But the missing soldier's family and their attorney are not convinced.
After meeting with Fort Hood officials last week in hopes of getting answers for the family, Khawam reached out to Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and formally requested a congressional investigation into the case, reported NBC News.
‘The base command did not provide us with the information they promised us. They were not transparent, or forthcoming. We got nothing,' Khawam said of the meeting, which she labelled 'disconcerting.'
Khawam said military officials claimed they did not know Guillen was missing until 8pm on April 22.
Troopers from Thunder Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, look over a map during search efforts for Guillén
Troopers from Thunder Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, look over a map during search efforts for Guillén 
Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment conduct ongoing searches of the training area at Fort Hood, Texas, for Guillen on June 18
Soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment conduct ongoing searches of the training area at Fort Hood, Texas, for Guillen on June 18
‘It doesn’t make sense,’ the lawyer argued. ‘Where was she during the check-ins earlier in the day. How is it that she wasn’t reported as absent if she missed those check-ins?’
All soldiers were accounted for during the afternoon check-ins on the day of Guillen’s disappearance - a discrepancy that Fort Hood leaders characterized as a 'mistake,’ according to the family lawyer.
‘The goal is to find out what really happened to Vanessa,’ Khawam said. ‘Something is happening at that base and people — especially women — are too scared to talk about it.’
Guillen’s family will travel to Washington DC on Thursday and hold a press conference at the US Capitol to publicly call for the Senate inquiry.
Khawam also plans to propose legislation aimed at protecting US military members from sexual harassment and assault 
Guillen, a Houston native, was last seen in the parking lot of her regimental engineer squadron headquarters at the Killeen base on April 22. 
Guillen's car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she was working earlier in the day. 
She was last seen wearing a black t-shirt, light purple leggings and black Nike sneakers.
Actress Salma Hayek has pledged to post pictures of missing soldier Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, 20, on her Instagram page until she is found
Actress Salma Hayek has pledged to post pictures of missing soldier Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, 20, on her Instagram page until she is found
Khawam told Univision Noticias that she asked the military to review surveillance cameras at the base in hopes that there could be key information that would lead to Guillen's whereabouts, but they were told that there were no security cameras installed at the site.
Khawam also said that they have appealed to authorities to secure cellphones that may have received messages from Guillen in the moments leading up to her disappearance.  
The attorney said that a message that was sent from Guillen's phone include the serial number of a weapon.
Khawam found the content of the message to be highly suspicious, and suggested that perhaps someone else might have sent the text with Guillen's mobile device. 
'The serial number of a firearm was sent from Vanessa's cell phone. This text message is very unusual for us because it is not something that is normally sent between the soldiers of the base,' Khawan said. 
'So we think that there is a possibility that someone else had sent the message, but the military authorities do not want to tell us the recipient of it.'
A reward of $55,000 is being offered for information in her disappearance. 
The US Army Criminal Investigation Command and the League of United Latin American Citizens is each contributing $25,000 to fund the reward.    
Actress Salma Hayek shared a post on Instagram vowing to share a picture of Guillen every day until she is found. 
Guillen's case has inspired a growing social media campaign, in which other servicewomen have been sharing their own harrowing stories of sexual assault and harassment in the military using the hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen.  
The body of Pvt. Gregory Scott Morales, 24, of Oklahoma, was found on Friday in a field near the 3200 block of Florence Road near Killeen, Texas after officials at the nearby Fort Hood base received a tip. He had disappeared from the base last August
The body of Pvt. Gregory Scott Morales, 24, of Oklahoma, was found on Friday in a field near the 3200 block of Florence Road near Killeen, Texas after officials at the nearby Fort Hood base received a tip. He had disappeared from the base last August
Morales, who was also known as Gregory Wedel, was last seen on August 19, 2019, driving his personal vehicle outside of Fort Hood
He was to be discharged within days after his disappearance, the Army said
Morales, who was also known as Gregory Wedel, was last seen on August 19, 2019, driving his personal vehicle outside of Fort Hood. He was to be discharged within days after his disappearance, the Army said
Both Morales and Guillen were stationed at the Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas
Both Morales and Guillen were stationed at the Fort Hood Army Base in Killeen, Texas
Morales, who was also known as Gregory Wedel, was last seen on August 19, 2019, driving his personal vehicle outside of Fort Hood.  
He was to be discharged within days after his disappearance, the Army said.
Morales joined the Army in June 2015 as a motor transport operator and had been assigned to the 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood since November 2016, according to the Army.
A $25,000 reward is being offered for information about his death. 
'The First Team is saddened by the news of the passing of PV2 Gregory Morales. His life was taken too soon, and we appreciate his service to our nation,' Maj Gen Jeffery Broadwater, commander, 1st Cavalry Division.  

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