Amid mostly empty white folding chairs and glowering weather, about a dozen people gathered on the lawn of the Historic Cache County Courthouse on Monday evening to remember an Army soldier believed to have been killed by a fellow servicemember at Fort Hood in Texas.
“The purpose of this vigil is to give this family the peace, the words to say (to Pres. Donald Trump in a meeting Wednesday), and some justice for their daughter,” organizer Guadalupe Vega said of the family of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén. “And not just for that family, but because of Vanessa’s inquiry of her case, may all the other cases come to light. And may there be justice for them, as well.”
Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, 20, went missing from Fort Hood in Texas in April. Authorities found and identified her remains more than two months later, and a fellow soldier was charged with killing her. That soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, also 20, killed himself when police approached him, a few days before the charge was announced. Guillén’s family said Vanessa told them she had been experiencing sexual harassment.
Vega, of Logan, organized the vigil in part to pray for and show support to Guillén’s family as they’re set to meet with Trump on Wednesday. The next day in front of the Capitol, the family’s attorney plans to announce the introduction of a bill in Congress that aims to protect service members from sexual harassment and assault.
“That’s a very big step,” Vega said. “Because how many cases do we know that make it, actually, to the top, to the point where it comes to our U.S. president?”
The cause is personal for Vega, whose son is an active-duty Marine.
“We, as parents, are going off faith, knowing that, ‘OK, my child is going to go give up their life to stand for the rights of others,’” Vega said. “The least of the things (we should have to worry about) with that, I would think, ‘Is my child going to get raped? Is my child going to be assaulted? Is my child going to be harassed?’”
Those fears are compounded by knowing that many soldiers targeted don’t come forward because they’re afraid of retribution, Vega said.
Jhasmin Moreno, 16, was one of the community members who chose to speak at the event.
“Being a woman of color in America is already hard enough, because your story is not being told,” Moreno said. “I feel like it’s a rare occasion that we get to see a woman of color finally getting justice. But it’s also a reminder that we still need a lot of change in the system, because a lot of women like her are being murdered. A lot of indigenous women are being murdered. A lot of black women are being murdered. A lot of Hispanic women are being murdered. And are their stories being told? No.”
Lizette Villegas, an advocate in the local Latino community, helped Vega organize the event.
“It’s to help them feel empowered and that their voices are heard,” Villegas said.
After helping organize a rally for JBS workers, Villegas wanted to help others make themselves heard, too, and encouraged Vega to put together the vigil. Speaking out in public isn’t something Cache Valley Latinos have always felt comfortable doing, Villegas said, and she wants to help change that, encouraging healthy expression and a sense that residents’ voices are heard.
Vega said she appreciates Villegas’s encouragement. She hadn’t demonstrated for something like this publicly before, but she felt it is important.
“I guess I couldn’t just sit there and share it on Facebook,” Vega said. “I couldn’t just sit there and share it on Instagram or follow it on Twitter. Sometimes we have to kind of get out of our comfort zones and stand up for somebody that can’t stand up right now, literally, physically anymore, and say ‘Hey, this isn’t right. This is not fair. This didn’t have to happen to me. And it shouldn’t have to happen to anybody else.’”