Mourners this week gathered to say goodbye to U.S. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen, who was allegedly murdered by a fellow soldier earlier this year in a case that has prompted outcry over the mistreatment of women in the armed forces, the New York Times reports.
On Friday, a custom-made coffin on a horse-drawn carriage circled the track at César E. Chávez High School in Houston, Guillen’s alma mater.
The procession was silent except for Guillen’s grandmother, Lorenza Almanza, who could be heard crying as she touched the carriage containing a coffin, which was draped with Mexican and American flags.
“My mother, Lady of Guadalupe, cover her with your cape,” Almanza said in Spanish in a ceremonial act to protect her granddaughter, according to the report.
Almanza, who lives in Mexico, called her 20-year-old granddaughter “a saint in heaven.”
Guillen’s sister, Lupe Guillen, said during the service that Vanessa is in a better place, CBS News reports.
“She’s very happy where she is next to God and the Virgin Mary,” Lupe Guillen said, according to CBS News. “We are not here for justice or politics today. We are here to remember, honor and respect Vanessa Guillen and her beautiful life, her tender heart and her beautiful face.”
The missing soldier’s partial remains were found near a river in Bell County, Texas on June 30. At the time of the discovery, she had not been seen for two months.
Federal authorities allege that another soldier, Aaron Robinson, beat Guillen to death with a hammer at Fort Hood in April and that his girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, helped dismember and burn Guillen’s remains.
Guillen’s face had been bludgeoned so severely that her teeth were smashed, with dental records barely providing adequate identification, according to investigators.
Robinson later killed himself and Aguilar has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of tampering with evidence.
Guillen’s family has alleged that Robinson sexually harassed Guillen before killing her; military officials have ordered an independent review of the climate at Fort Hood, CBS News reports.
After circling the high school track where Guillen used to run as an athlete, the coffin was put in an auditorium and surrounded by flowers, balloons and photographs.
A private funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
Guillen’s sister, Lupe Guillen, said during the public service on Friday that her sister’s spirit had been a source of strength during the ordeal.
“I’ve been admiring you since Day 1 because you’re a fighter,” Lupe Guillen, according to the New York Times. “You’re a warrior.”
Lupe Guillen added that she was particularly proud that her sister pursued her dreams to be in the military.
“You were always chasing — chasing them no matter what the people said, no matter who told you, ‘You can’t do it,’” Lupe reportedly said.
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