Army over­looked ev­i­dence, searcher says

Civil­ian: Guillen’s body found week af­ter de­bris

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Heather Os­bourne Austin Amer­i­can-States­man USA TODAY NET­WORK

AUSTIN, Texas – Mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors search­ing for the body of U.S. Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen over­looked ev­i­dence that could have led to the dis­cov­ery of her re­mains a week sooner – and brought res­o­lu­tion to her heart­bro­ken fam­ily, the leader of a team of civil­ian searchers said Fri­day.

The 20-year-old soldier dis­ap­peared from Fort Hood in Texas on April 22.

Tim Miller, founder of the civil­ian group Equ­uSearch, said his crew dis­cov­ered a pile of burned de­bris June 21 at a ru­ral high­way in­ter­sec­tion about 20 miles away from Fort Hood and steps from the Leon River.

Miller said he pleaded with Army of­fi­cials to search the site more thor­oughly that day. Mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors, he said, in­stead fo­cused their search on the nearby river. More than a week later, con­struc­tion work­ers came upon Guillen’s re­mains in the very spot Miller said mil­i­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tors over­looked.

Guillen’s fam­ily has crit­i­cized Army of­fi­cials’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion since she dis­ap­peared from Fort Hood, al­leg­ing they failed to thor­oughly search on and off post. Army of­fi­cials did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment re­gard­ing Miller’s ac­count of the search.

Army Sec­re­tary Ryan McCarthy or­dered an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the com­mand cli­mate at Fort Hood af­ter Guillen's death raised ques­tions about the treatment of women and His­panic ser­vice mem­bers.

If the re­view finds wrong­do­ing, ac­tion will be taken against of­fi­cials at "any ech­e­lon," McCarthy said.

Among the items Miller said his crew found in the burn pile was the charred re­mains of a Pel­i­can case, a hard-sided, wa­ter­tight stor­age con­tainer com­monly used in the mil­i­tary.

Army in­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pect that Spc. Aaron David Robin­son of Fort Hood used a Pel­i­can case to carry Guillen’s body off post af­ter he killed her with a ham­mer in an ar­mory room April 22. Robin­son died of a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound July 1 af­ter Killeen police con­fronted him in their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Guillen’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

“If we had used ground pen­e­tra­tion, we would have likely seen anom­alies and stuff in the ground and found her one week prior to when she was found,” Miller said. “It would have been one week less of de­com­po­si­tion.”

Miller said his team pleaded with of­fi­cials from the Army's Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Com­mand, an or­ga­ni­za­tion more com­monly known as CID, on June 21 to take a closer look at what his searchers found.

“Army CID said the (burned) case is not the kind they use and that it doesn’t have any­thing to do with any­thing,” Miller said. Of­fi­cials called in the Texas Rangers af­ter the civil­ian searchers showed them pho­tos of a Pel­i­can case on Google, Miller said.

Au­thor­i­ties dug di­rectly un­der the burn pile but did not find Guillen’s body, Miller said. They did not search ar­eas around the pile of burned ev­i­dence.

Miller said CID of­fi­cials were un­in­ter­ested in con­tin­u­ing to search near the pile be­cause a dog trained to help find body parts, tis­sue, blood and bone walked right over it and did not alert han­dlers of any signs of hu­man re­mains.

The dog walked to the Leon River bank and alerted its han­dlers that it smelled some­thing, he said.

“They re­lied on that one dog, and in­stead of search­ing the area a lit­tle more, they were sure (Robin­son) threw (Guillen) into the river,” Miller said.

Army of­fi­cials de­fended their search ef­forts, say­ing that by May 21, more than 500 sol­diers from the 3rd Cav­alry Di­vi­sion searched daily while the 1st Cav­alry Di­vi­sion pro­vided more than 100 hours of flight time to search on and off the in­stal­la­tion.

A crim­i­nal com­plaint filed July 2 against Ce­cily Aguilar – Robin­son’s girl­friend who is charged with con­spir­acy to tam­per with ev­i­dence in Guillen’s case – says she and Robin­son at­tempted to dis­pose of Guillen’s body in mul­ti­ple ways, in­clud­ing burn­ing it and cov­er­ing it in ce­ment.

Miller said the ground did not ap­pear to be dis­turbed, nor did he smell any odor. The Equ­uSearch leader said the smell was likely con­tained by concrete and other sub­stances Robin­son and Aguilar used to cover up the re­mains.

More than a week af­ter the burn pile was dis­cov­ered, odor led civil­ians who were build­ing a fence on a prop­erty near the pile to Guillen’s re­mains.


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