MUSCATINE, Iowa–On Saturday, Aug. 1, the League of United Latin American Citizens of Muscatine held a vigil to honor Vanessa Guillen. Guillen served as a soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, before going missing April 22. Searchers discovered her remains April 30. At the beginning of July, prosecutors intended to charge fellow soldier Aaron Robinson with her murder, however, he committed suicide before anyone pressed charges. Before her death, Guillen had complained of sexual harassment but had not yet filed an official report.
LULAC State Director and Muscatine resident Nick Salazar welcomed about 40 Muscatine County residents to the vigil in riverside park. He emphasized the importance of celebrating Guillen’s life by advocating for military reform. “We are here to make sure it never happens again,” he stressed. Specifically, Salazar supported further investigation of Guillen’s case, and for the passage of national legislation, such as the #IamVanessaGuillen Bill, which if passed would create a third party review board for complaints of sexual abuse and harassment in the military.
Following Salazar’s introduction, Muscatine City Council Member and candidate for House District 91 Kelsey Brackett spoke. Brackett, who briefly served in the army, encouraged everyone, not just leadership, to look out of the needs of others and to help those in need of help whenever we encounter them. Two survivors of military sexual assault, including Iowa Veterans Caucus Chair and County Supervisor candidate Michelle Servadio Elias shared their experiences and stressed the importance of seeking help. Sara Dalby of Davenport, the aunt of Natasha Aposhian, a member of the air force shot and killed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, reiterated their message, adding that members of the military needed safe ways to report sexual harassment. Jennifer Zamora of the Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Iowa talked about how she often works with veterans who experienced some form of assault or violence and how they could come to her organization for help.
The vigil ended with a short prayer and moment of silence. Anyone in attendance could place flowers or another gift on an alter made for her underneath a picnic shelter.