Trump meets with family of slain soldier Vanessa Guillen, promises to 'get to the bottom' of her death

Trump promised to look into the death of the Fort Hood soldier, but stopped short of endorsing a new system for reporting sexual harassment in the military that her family is advocating for.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks as he meets with the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen in the Oval Office on July 30, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump met with the family of slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen Thursday, promising to deliver justice for the 20 year-old who was found dismembered and burned after last being seen in a parking lot at Fort Hood, where she was stationed, on April 22.

"We’ll get to the bottom of it," Trump said during a meeting in the Oval Office with Guillen's mother and father, as well as her two sisters and the family lawyer, adding that he would look into the case "very powerfully."

Trump said that FBI, the Department of Justice and officials at Fort Hood were investigating Guillen's death. Earlier in July the secretary of the Army announced he was ordering an independent review of Fort Hood’s command culture.

“We didn’t want to have this swept under the rug, which could happen," Trump said.

The Army found the remains of Guillen’s body two months after she went missing. A suspect in her death, a fellow Fort Hood soldier, shot and killed himself as police moved in to arrest him. A woman that officials identified as his girlfriend was arrested and has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of tampering with evidence.

Guillen's family has said Guillen reported sexual harassment to her family and other soldiers at the base before she disappeared.

The family asked Trump to support the #IamVanessaGuillen bill, named after a hashtag that encouraged women in the military to share their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault. The bill would establish a third party agency to which active duty service members could report allegations of sexual harassment and assault instead of going through their chain of command.

Natalie Khawam, a lwayer for the Guillen family, said that a system similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which protects civilians from workplace discrimination, needed to be established for the military.

“We’re looking for something that’s going to allow our military, our soldiers, to have the same rights or protections so that way they’re not going to their chain of command or internally," Khawam said to Trump.

Guillen's sister told Trump that it was a "disgrace that when you get sexually harassed you have to report on to your line of command... so you wouldn’t have the confidence nor the trust to report it." Guillen's sister added that she never formally reported her alleged assault "because she was afraid of the retaliation or afraid of judgement."

Trump said that he understood that Guillen's alleged experience with sexual harassment was "probably, sadly not that unique," but he did not commit to support the #IamVanessaGuillen bill.

Trump offered to pay for Guillen's funeral costs, telling the family "financially, I’ll help you."

Guillén's death has led to protests and marches around the country and has sparked a national conversation about how the military handles sexual harassment and assault, especially for Latino service members. Guillén's death also prompted service women and veterans to tell their own cases of harassment and sexual abuse and how authorities had ignored or tried to hide them. Many people have demanded answers from the military as to why they did not do more when Guillen first went missing.

Caroline Vakil contributed.