FORT HOOD, Texas — The U.S. Army’s probe into the murder of SPC Vanessa Guillen, who was bludgeoned to death at Fort Hood in April, has kicked up a notch this week, even as the Texas military base announced the death of another of its soldiers.
PVT Corlton L. Chee, 25, died Wednesday, five days after collapsing during training, Fort Hood officials said. He is at least the 27th Fort Hood soldier to die since Jan. 1.
“Chee collapsed while conducting physical fitness training and was transported to the Carl R. Darnall Medical Center on Aug. 28,” a news release from the base said. “He was then transported to Baylor Scott and White in Temple on Aug. 30, where he passed away with his family by his side.”
An autopsy will be performed at the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas.
Leadership at Fort Hood, the largest active-duty armored post in the U.S., has come under fire in recent months following a large number of soldier deaths, both on and off the installation. At least 12 soldiers have gone missing, been victims of homicide, or been killed in accidents since January.
Nearly 40,000 soldiers live and work at Fort Hood. KWTX reported that Fort Hood officials said eight soldiers died in accidents this year, six have died by suicide, two have died of illness and five deaths have causes pending.
Five were victims of homicide, the most at Fort Hood in a single year since 2016, the news station said.
Prior to Chee’s death, the most recent death was the suicide of SGT Elder Fernandes, 23, who was found hanging from a tree Aug. 25 in Temple. Fernandes had last been seen alive by fellow soldiers Aug. 17 in Killeen.
Like Guillen, Fernandes had claimed he’d suffered sexual harassment at Fort Hood. Unlike Guillen, he had reported his alleged sexual assault to his superiors, who had transferred him to another unit “to ensure he received the proper care and ensure there were no opportunities for reprisals.”
Fernandes had been hospitalized for several days shortly before his disappearance to seek psychiatric care, The Associated Press reported. According to his family, he had been happy in the Army until the alleged assault.
After he reported the abuse, he was bullied, harassed and hazed, his family told the AP.
“I am saddened that another soldier who served the country has been destroyed by sexual assault and sexual harassment and this toxic culture in the military that exists,” Natalie Khawam, an attorney who is also representing Guillen’s family, said in a statement.
It was Guillen’s high-profile disappearance and murder at the hands of a fellow soldier that shined a spotlight on Fort Hood. The 20-year-old small arms and artillery repairer vanished from the base April 22, launching a massive search.
Her burned and dismembered remains were found June 30, encased in concrete and buried in multiple shallow graves along the Leon River, 30 miles from the base.
Hours after the grisly discovery, as U.S. Marshals and Killeen police closed in on their suspect, SPC Aaron David Robinson, he turned a gun on himself and pulled the trigger. Robinson, 20, was pronounced dead at the scene on a street in Killeen.
Robinson’s civilian girlfriend, Cecily Anne Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, is charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. Aguilar is accused of helping Robinson dispose of Guillen’s remains.
Amid the multiple investigations into Guillen’s death and Fort Hood, Army officials announced Tuesday that Major Gen. John B. Richardson IV will assume duties as deputy commanding general for operations of III Corps and acting senior commander of the Texas military installation.
He is replacing Major Gen. Scott Efflandt.
Efflandt had been due to become a division commander at Fort Bliss, but that transfer was put on hold pending multiple investigations into Guillen’s death and the “command climate” at Fort Hood.
Gen. John Murray, who is commanding general of Army Futures Command, and one of the Army’s most senior commanders, will also lead an in-depth investigation into the chain-of-command actions related to Guillen’s death and allegations she made to her family regarding sexual harassment at Fort Hood.
“There are currently several investigations underway at Fort Hood which are tasked with reviewing a wide range of topics and concerns,” a statement from the Army reads. “Gen. Murray will roll those efforts into a more complete and comprehensive investigation that will delve into all activities and levels of leadership.
“Murray’s investigation, which will be conducted under the provisions of Army Regulation 15-6, is separate from the independent review of Fort Hood, which began in August.”
The five-member civilian committee conducting the independent review arrived in Killeen on Sunday, the Army announced. They are expected to stay for a two-week “fact-finding mission.”
The committee “will examine the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community to determine whether they reflect the Army’s commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity and freedom from sexual harassment,” a news release said. “While at Fort Hood, FHIRC members plan to meet with unit leaders, soldiers, local officials, law enforcement and community groups.”
Their final report, due Oct. 30, will include “a review of historical data and statistics; interviews with a wide range of Fort Hood personnel; an evaluation of policies, regulations and procedures regarding sexual assault prevention, sexual harassment, equal opportunity and responses to reports of missing soldiers; an evaluation of leaders’ training, education, abilities and effectiveness; and the command climate at various units and its impact on the safety, welfare and readiness of their soldiers,” the statement read.
Efflandt will “continue to serve as the deputy commanding general for support and will remain at Fort Hood to assist with the reintegration of III Corps as they return from their mission supporting Operation Inherent Resolve,” the news release said.
The Army will soon announce the new commander for the 1st Armored Division, which Efflandt had previously been designated to lead, authorities said.
Cox Media Group