On the afternoon of April 22, Vanessa Guillen vanished from the Fort Hood Army base in Killeen, Texas.
The 20-year-old private first class was last seen in the parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, and her barracks room key, ID, and wallet were later found in the base’s armory room, where she had been working. But since then, no one has seen or heard from Guillen, and only now — two months from the day since she disappeared — have Army officials offered their first public commitments to finding her.
In a video posted to Facebook on Sunday night, Fort Hood Deputy Commander Major General Scott Efflandt appealed to the public to come forward with any clues or information that could lead them to Guillen. “We want to bring Vanessa home as efficiently and rapidly as possible,” Efflandt said. “We need to bring Vanessa back to her Army family, and to bring her back to her family, and we won't stop this effort until we're successful."
Chris Grey, spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Division, said in a statement released on Monday that investigators are “completely committed to finding Vanessa and aggressively going after every single piece of credible information and every lead in this investigation."
"We will not stop until we find Vanessa," Grey added.
But a troubling wrinkle in Guillen’s story, coupled with the Army’s relative inaction up to this point, have become the sources of dark conspiracy theories that have cropped up on the Internet: Three weeks before her disappearance, Guillen told her mother that she was sexually assaulted by one of her Sergeants on Fort Hood.
According to a website set up on Guillen’s behalf by family members, the sergeant in question would follow Guillen around the base “whenever [she] would run and exercise,” intimidating her and making her feel uncomfortable.
“My mom tried tried to convince me to give her the name of the person who was harassing me, but I didn’t want to get in trouble,” the website, which is written by family from Guillen’s perspective, alleges. “My mom told me that she would report it for me, but I told her that I knew of other female soldiers that had reported sexual harassment and that the US Army didn’t believe them.”
In a harrowing twist, the search for Guillen kicks off the same week that investigators uncovered the skeletal remains of Private Gregory Wedel-Morales, one of two Fort Hood soldiers who went missing in 2019 just days before he was set to be discharged from military service. Investigations into the whereabouts of the other soldier, as well as the circumstances surrounding Morales’ death, remain ongoing.
The troubling developments on Fort Hood have been enough to pique the interests of internet sleuths and celebrities alike, many of whom are determined not to let a woman of color slip so seamlessly from the public’s radar. Guillen’s advocates include the actress Salma Hayek, who has pledged to post about Guillen on her Instagram every day until she is found, and Houston rapper Baby Bash, who has pledged to contribute $5,000 to a reward fund that currently stands at $50,000.
Among those skeptical of the strange circumstances of Guillen’s disappearance is the family’s attorney, Natalie Khawam, who told ABC News that Vanessa told loved ones she didn't want to report the sexual harassment out of fear of retaliation.
"The facts aren't good. I don't like them," Khawam said. "There were a few incidents where she had told her colleagues, her friends, her family about being sexually harassed but she was afraid to report it. How does someone disappear on a base that has more protection and safeguards than anyone else on the planet?"
Despite the morbid details surrounding the Fort Hood base, the Army CID has said it has found "no credible information or report" to corroborate the allegation that Guillen was sexually assaulted or anything that might connect her case to the disappearance of Gregory Wedel-Morales.
According to the family’s website, Guillen was last seen wearing a black shirt, purple leggings and black Nike tennis shoes. Officials are urging members of the public with any information to call 254-495-7767.
Refinery29 has reached out to the family's attorney as well as the Army Criminal Investigation Division. We will update this story as we know more.