By Mike Kinney
A candlelight vigil for 20-year-old U.S. Army First Class Private Vanessa Guillen drew a large gathering at Richmond Civic Center Plaza on Monday night. The vigil was preceded by a lengthy caravan of cars and trucks that rolled to the vigil from a parking lot in San Pablo.
The vigil was among numerous events held across the nation in memory of Guillen, who disappeared at Fort Hood on April 22 and whose remains were found last week. Authorities say she was murdered by fellow Fort Hood soldier Aaron Robinson, who shot and killed himself when confronted by police.
In response to Guillen’s murder, events are being held nationwide calling for an end to sexual harassment in the military. Before she disappeared, Guillen had told her family about sexual harassment on the base.
Organizers for the Richmond vigil are three sisters, Estefany, Nadia and Jacqueline Sanchez.
Estefany, 23, a five-year veteran of the U.S. Army and current reservist, said the vigil was important in order to provide a voice for Guillen’s family.
“It hits home hard because I am a Latina in the U.S. Army and that could have been me,” Estefany said. “I want her name remembered and honored. She signed on to protect our country and our country did not protect her.”
Estefany said women on Army bases in different states have shared with her they have been victims of both sexual harassment and sexual violence by their sergeants in charge.
“It seems to happen to Latina, Black and every race of women who serve,” Estefany said. “These are the types of encounters that women in the Army face daily.”
Gonzalo Rucobo of Richmond-based Bay Area Peacekeepers (BAP) helped organize Monday’s vigil.
“As always, our number one mission of Bay Area Peacekeepers is to support and be the voice to the community by transforming hurt and pain into love, hope and healing,” Rucobo said.
Community advocate Diego Garcia added, “You just can’t sweep this under the rug anymore.”