Donald Trump has met with the family of a soldier who investigators say was killed on the Texas army base where she was stationed, saying it is a “terrible story” and that he would help with funeral expenses.
The family of army specialist Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found on 2 July following her disappearance in April from Fort Hood, rallied with several dozen supporters before the meeting with Trump, calling for justice in the case and for changes in the way the military handles sexual abuse and harassment.
“It’s an incredible story. It’s a terrible story,” Trump said to the family in the Oval Office on Thursday. “So we’re going to look into it very powerfully. We already have started, as you know, and we’ll get to the bottom of it. Maybe things can come out that will help other people in a situation like Vanessa. We’ll be in touch with you constantly.”
Guillén’s family has said she was sexually harassed by the fellow solider suspected of killing her, but the Army has said there is no evidence supporting the claim.
The Army has said she may have experienced harassment by others at the base that was not sexual in nature. Secretary of the army Ryan D McCarthy ordered a review of the command climate at Fort Hood on 10 July.
“The truth will come out whether they like it or not,” said Lupe Guillen, the younger sister of Guillén, said ahead of the meeting with the president.
Guillén’s mother, Gloria Guillén, said she was angry to hear McCarthy say her daughter was not sexually harassed. She said she had spoken to her daughter about the harassment, but Gloria Guillén did not detail what her daughter said. She said she was speaking up for all women in the military.
“If there is war, who is going to defend us if our soldiers are scared to join?” she said in Spanish. “Who is going to guard our country if our soldiers are being assaulted, killed and disappeared?”
She said relatives were disappointed to not have heard from Texas’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, regarding her sister’s case and were ready to take their story straight to the White House.
John Wittman, a spokesperson for Abbott, said the governor’s office has not heard from the Guillén family but is prepared to help. He said the governor’s office was looking into whether Texas has any authority over a US military death. He also said the Texas attorney general’s office was looking into whether the family may be eligible for assistance from the crime victim’s compensation fund.
“Governor Abbott’s heart aches for the Guillén family and he and the first lady keep them in their prayers,” Wittman said in a text message.
Investigators have not revealed a motive for Guillén’s death. They said in a complaint that she was bludgeoned to death in the armory room of the army base near Killeen. Fellow Fort Hood specialist Aaron Robinson, 20, is suspected to have killed and dismembered Guillén. Robinson killed himself after being confronted by police on 1 July. A civilian suspect, 22-year-old Cecily Aguilar, is in custody on three counts of conspiracy to destroy evidence for helping Robinson hide Guillén’s remains and attempting to flee.
The family is pushing a bill that would address procedures for reporting sexual harassment and assault in the military, according to the family’s lawyer, Natalie Khawam, who helped write it. US Representatives Markwayne Mullin and Tulsi Gabbard are sponsoring the bill, which is named #IAmVanessaGuillén after a social media movement on harassment in the military.
A funeral has not been held for Guillén because relatives are still waiting for her remains, Khawam told Trump. They hope to have a service soon in Houston.
“And if I can help you out with the funeral, I’ll help you out, financially, I’ll help you,” Trump said.