Reward for information about missing Fort Hood soldier doubled by Hispanic group as family enlists help from lawmaker
By ROSE L. THAYER | Stars and Stripes | Published: June 16, 2020
AUSTIN, Texas — Now bolstered with the support of a Texas congresswoman and a national Hispanic organization, the family of missing Fort Hood soldier, Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, has doubled the reward money for information as they push the Army for answers.
Anyone with credible information in the search for Guillen could now receive up to $50,000 as the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, agreed to match the Army’s $25,000 reward.
“There’s a saying in the military never to leave to a soldier behind. We cannot leave Vanessa behind,” said Domingo Garcia, national president of LULAC, America’s largest and oldest Hispanic organization. “This young lady put on the uniform to serve our country. We are asking anybody out there, if you have any information as to her location or whereabouts, please contact us.”
Garcia made the announcement Tuesday during an online news conference with Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, who is attempting to assist the Guillen family who are constituents of her Houston district. There is no relation between the congresswoman and the LULAC president.
“Thank you so much for helping my family and helping during my difficult time,” Guillen’s mother, Gloria Guillen, said in Spanish. “I just want to know what happened. What happened to my little girl?”
Vanessa Guillen, 20, went missing between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. April 22 in the parking lot of 3rd Cavalry Regiment’s engineer squadron headquarters, where she worked in the armory room as a small arms repairer, according to the Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID. Her car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet were later found there.
Her car still sits in the parking lot, said Natalie Khawam, an attorney for the Guillen family. The location of the soldier’s cellphone is one of the many questions that the family still wants answered.
“We understand that the phone has not been found,” Khawam said. “We are going to subpoena the phone company for where it pinged to last. We’re also going to subpoena the text messages on her phone.”
In the nearly two months that Vanessa Guillen has been missing, the Army has said it continues to search for her. Initial efforts included more than 500 soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment searching on foot in training areas, barracks and across the installation, Fort Hood spokesman Tom Rheinlander said a month ago.
Sylvia Garcia said she’s been told search efforts continue every day, but she’s not been told what the efforts include. Once the congresswoman is cleared from a self-isolation after coming into contact with the coronavirus, she said she plans to visit the base to meet with investigators directly. Likely later this month, she said.
Col. Ralph Overland, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, has been her point of contact.
“The colonel assured us he would have maps to show us where they’ve been and where they’ve searched,” Sylvia Garcia said. “That’s what is concerning for us. We seem to have more questions than we have answers. I need answers on what other resources they need.”
She said she plans to take those needs to the House Armed Services Committee to see what they can do. She’s also trying to get the FBI more involved in the search and has submitted a formal congressional inquiry.
The Guillen family has said Vanessa told them she was being sexually harassed on base. However, CID officials denied the credibility to those allegations in a statement released Monday. Rep. Garcia said Overland has put together his own team to investigate any leads that the family can provide on the matter. They are scheduled to meet Thursday.
The congresswoman said she plans to “make sure they do a deep dive and that it’s open and fair and transparent” because “when you see an organization that’s investigating themselves, the results are suspect.”
Gloria Guillen said she wants someone from outside the military to find her daughter and to “look into what’s happening on that base.”
“I just want answers and to make sure we can get down to the bottom of this,” she said.
Rep. Garcia also expressed concern for Fort Hood, given that another soldier, Pvt. Gregory Morales, is also missing. CID announced Tuesday that it increased reward money to $25,000 for information on his whereabouts.
Morales, 23, might also be using the last name Wedel, which was his last name prior to his marriage, according to CID. He was last seen on the night of Aug. 19 driving a black Kia Rio with temporary Texas plates.
He was out processing from the Army and was scheduled to be discharged within a couple of days when he disappeared, according to CID.
CID investigators have said they have no credible information that Morales and Guillen’s disappearances are connected, though the allegation has been widely circulated via the media and social media.
The family and their supporters have also questioned the Army about video surveillance footage that might provide some information about Vanessa Guillen’s last moments at work. Rep. Garcia said Overland told her that the Army does not have video cameras in the armory room and only one in the parking lot.
“Everything is couched under a pending investigation and we cannot confirm it or share it,” she said.
Though the congresswoman appeared frustrated at the lack of information, she said she wants to keep the lines of communication open.
“This is a story about a family. This has happened to their daughter and we need to make sure we get answers,” Rep. Garcia said. “We will leave no stone unturned until we find Vanessa.”
To contact LULAC with information, call 214-941-8300.
Persons with information on Guillen or Morales can contact Army CID special agents at 254-287-2722 or the military police desk at 254-288-1170. They can also anonymously submit information at https://www.cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html. People wishing to remain anonymous will be honored to the degree allowable under the law and the information will be held in the strictest confidence allowable.