Sister refuses to give up hope as search for missing Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen gains national attention

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By Andrea Cavallier

Editor's note: The military launched an investigation into allegations that Vanessa Guillen, who vanished from her post at Fort Hood earlier this year was sexually harassed, officials said Thursday. As of this week, the reward for information leading to her whereabouts is up to $50,000.

A reward of up to $50,000 is now being offered for credible information leading to the whereabouts of missing Fort Hood soldier Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command announced.

Vanessa Guillen

As a nationwide search continues nearly two months after the 20-year-old disappeared, actress Salma Hayek, a congresswoman and a Latino advocacy organization have joined an effort to keep attention on Vanessa’s case.

Vanessa, a small-arms repairer with the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, was last seen between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on April 22, 2020, in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, in Fort Hood, Texas, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

Vanessa’s car keys, barracks room key, identification card and wallet were later found in the armory room where she had been working earlier in the day. Her cell phone is also missing.

In a press release emailed to Dateline on Monday, Army CID Chief of Public Affairs spokesman Chris Grey announced that the CID has increased the reward for credible information leading to Vanessa’s whereabouts from $15,000 up to $25,000.

“We are completely committed to finding Vanessa and aggressively going after every single piece of credible information and every lead in this investigation,” Grey said. “We will not stop until we find Vanessa.”

Vanessa Guillen

Vanessa, who is originally from Houston, Texas, has remained close with her family, including her sister, Mayra Guillen. Mayra told Dateline her sister knew she wanted to join the Army right after graduating high school and was excited to serve her country. She said Vanessa had plans to serve her four years and then go to school for kinesiology.

“We last spoke by text the day before she disappeared,” Mayra told Dateline. “She was talking about a car she wanted for her birthday, which is in September. Everything was fine and normal. And now, everything is a nightmare.”

Mayra told Dateline that on the day of her sister’s disappearance, Vanessa had texted her boyfriend to say she was going into work but she would text back as soon as she could.

“But that text never came,” Mayra said. “And no one has seen or heard from her since.”

Mayra told Dateline that Vanessa had previously expressed to their mother, Gloria Guillen, that she felt unsafe at Fort Hood and that a sergeant had been sexually harassing her. Mayra said Vanessa never identified that person and never reported the incidents to the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.

“Something weird was going there,” Mayra said. “Vanessa was afraid. And now she's gone. But I do know that she wouldn’t have just left on her own without telling anyone. She would have at least told me.”

On Thursday, military officials announced that they have launched an investigation into allegations that Vanessa was sexually harassed.

“I take allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and we are conducting a thorough investigation,” Col. Col. Ralph Overland, commander of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, said. “The 3rd Cavalry Regiment continues to aggressively search for Pfc. Guillen and will not stop until we find her.”

In a statement released by Fort Hood, officials said that the Army commander of Private First Class Vanessa Guillen’s regiment had appointed an investigative team to examine the allegations.

In a statement released on June 10, authorities said numerous special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command have frequently called and met with members of the Guillen family from the date Vanessa was first reported missing.

But Mayra told Dateline their family is frustrated with the lack of information and is pushing for the FBI to take over the case from Army CID.

"This happened inside a federal building and we're still not getting answers," Mayra said at a press conference last week after military authorities provided updates on the search.

“It’s just really difficult because of the Army’s jurisdiction,” Mayra told Dateline. “We are thankful for everything that is being done, but I am pushing for a bigger investigation.”

CID spokesman Chris Grey, who confirmed that more than 150 people have been interviewed, said, “We are working very closely with multiple law enforcement agencies to include the FBI, Belton Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety, as well as others.” Grey added, “We have also partnered with Texas EquuSearch and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to tap into their resources as well. We have participated in ground and air searches on Fort Hood and throughout the Central Texas region.”

The search for Vanessa sparked national attention after the family launched a “Find Vanessa Guillen” campaign on social media.

Rep. Sylvia García, D-Texas, tweeted that her “office is working directly with the family to #FindVanessa.”

“It’s been nearly 50 days since #VanessaGuillen has been seen. My team is committed to the movement to #FindVanessa,” wrote another elected official, State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Texas, in a Facebook post.

According to NBCNews.com, community groups such as immigrant rights organization FIEL in Houston and LULAC, the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S., have joined the family in peaceful demonstrations.

The president of the League of United Latin American Citizens said Tuesday that the advocacy group is offering another $25,000.

Actress Salma Hayek joined the effort this week by posting a message on Instagram saying, “Bring back Vanessa… . We won’t stop until you come back.”

Hayek also pledged to “put Vanessa’s photo on my stories everyday until she is found.”

Army CID and Fort Hood continue to seek the public’s help for information.

“We know somebody out there has some very critical information pertaining to this investigation and we strongly encourage you to do the right thing and come forward,” Grey said. “Do it for Vanessa and do it for her family, friends and fellow soldiers.”

Vanessa is five feet, two inches tall, 126 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes. She has the tattoo of a cross with a flower on her left arm, another flower also on the left arm, and a mountain with a circle on her upper left shoulder. She has a small mole between her lower mouth, and her chin. Vanessa was last seen wearing a black t-shirt and purple fitness-type pants.

“I’m never going to stop searching for my sister,” Mayra told Dateline. “There are days where I just want to vanish myself. But I can’t. I have to hold on to hope that she's OK… and that she’s going to be home safe soon.”

Anyone with information about Vanessa’s whereabouts is urged to 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.