(CN) — The family of an Army soldier who went missing from a Central Texas base in April asked Congress to investigate what they say is a cover-up by Army officials after a suspect in her disappearance shot himself as police closed in on him early Wednesday.
Army Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, of Houston, was last seen April 22 at 11:30 a.m. in a parking lot at Fort Hood, Texas, a base 70 miles north of Austin. Her car keys, barracks room key and identification card were found on the base.
Her sister Mayra Guillen said at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday that her family believes remains recently found near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas, are Guillen’s.
Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble said special agents with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division contacted his department Tuesday evening and said a person of interest in Guillen’s case was in the city.
“As officers attempted to make contact with the suspect, he produced a weapon and committed suicide by shooting himself. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:17 a.m.,” Kimble said at a press conference Wednesday.
In a statement, Army criminal investigators called the man who killed himself a “junior soldier from Fort Hood who fled the post late yesterday” and said his name “will not be released at this time pending the notification of next of kin.”
But the Guillen family’s attorney Natalie Khawam said at Wednesday’s press conference the dead man is the same one who Guillen had told her family was sexually harassing her before she disappeared, Houston’s CBS affiliate KHOU 11 reported.
In a June 27 interview in which she claimed Fort Hood officials “were not being transparent” about the case, Khawam told KHOU 11 that Guillen had told her family her superior had walked in on her when she was showering.
Guillen said she didn’t want to report it “because she didn’t want to get in trouble because he was her superior,” according to Khawam.
Khawam also said in the interview Guillen had a boyfriend she had started dating in high school and planned to marry.
“I think it’s time Congress opens an investigation, and the Pentagon comes in and investigates this themselves,” Khawam told KHOU 11.
The Army said a civilian it described as the “estranged wife of a former Fort Hood soldier” was arrested Wednesday in connection with Guillen’s disappearance and is in custody at the Bell County Jail.
The new developments come after Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat who represents Houston, traveled to Fort Hood with Guillen’s family and met with leaders of the base.
Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was at Wednesday’s presser standing with the Guillen family as Lupe Guillen said her sister had dreamed of entering the military since she was 10.
“She dreamed of being a soldier,” Lupe Guillen said. “She wanted greater opportunity. She wanted to help my parents as well. She signed a contract with the Army to protect and serve the country. Yet look how they treated her. Like she was nothing. She’s a human being as well. She deserves respect. And Fort Hood didn’t give it to her. I want Fort Hood Army Base to be shut down and to investigate every single one of them. Because they are staying quiet. They are protecting one another.”
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division did not immediately respond Wednesday afternoon when asked if the man who killed himself was Guillen’s superior.
But the division’s spokesman Chris Grey urged the public to be patient because the investigation is ongoing, in a statement provided to Texas news outlets.
“There are obviously pieces of information and evidence that cannot be shared with the public during an active criminal investigation. Doing so can seriously jeopardize the charging and successful prosecution of individuals. When important investigative information is prematurely released, criminals can and will destroy evidence, conspire to change their stories, build false alibis, etc,” he said.
The Army is still offering a $25,000 reward for information about Guillen’s disappearance.
It said it has no evidence Guillen’s case is connected to the death of Private Gregory Wedel-Morales, a Fort Hood solider last seen on Aug. 19, 2019. His remains were found June 19 near the base. The Army is also offering a $25,000 reward for info about the circumstances of his death.