Vanessa Guillen legislation which cracks down on how Army handles sexual assault celebrated

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Come April, it will be two years since the murder of Houston Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen in Fort Hood. On Thursday, her family announced their next steps in establishing more changes in the Army.

The Guillen family celebrated the passage of the "I Am Vanessa Guillen" bill at the Post Oak Hotel. The historic bill was signed into law in December and includes sweeping changes into the way the military handles sexual assault and harassment cases.

"It's been a long fight for justice, justice for Vanessa, and I'm proud to say that we got a bill passed. The president signed it into law and today our soldiers are protected with freedoms, rights, protections that they've never had before," said family attorney Natalie Khawam at the celebration.

SEE RELATED STORY: Pres. Biden signs National Defense Authorization Act into law

"The Act provides vital benefits and enhances access to justice for military personnel and their families, and includes critical authorities to support our country's national defense," President Joe Biden said in a statement back in December.

Democrats applauded provisions in the bill overhauling how the military justice system handles sexual assault and other related crimes, effectively taking prosecutorial jurisdiction over such crimes out of the hands of military commanders.

Former Houston police chief Art Acevedo was also at the event on Thursday in support of the Guillen family.

"The pain of a mother, a father, sisters, a family, the support of a community and the advocacy of a great lawyer led to this moment," said Acevedo. "I think we should celebrate the fact that this family didn't let their immigration status stop them from seeking justice, didn't let their lack of a language stop them from seeking justice."

Other elected officials like Texas State Senator Cesar Blanco, U.S. Representative Sylvia Garcia, Congressman Adam Smith and Congressman Markwayne Mullin spoke at the event.

"This should have never have happened, but because of the Guillen family's courage, mountains were moved," said Blanco. "Vanessa shared with family that she was assaulted on base but didn't report it because she was scared of the retaliation. Her story exemplifies the unacceptable pervasiveness in the military, but her legacy will continue to move our country forward."

The most moving of speeches was from Vanessa's mother, Gloria. Though very grateful for the new bill, she said she was not going to rest until she learned the truth of what happened to her daughter.

"I thank God because the bill passed, but I just want justice. I want see justice against the suspect because I won't rest until I know the truth," said Gloria. "Only Vanessa knows what she suffered."

The family searched for Vanessa for 69 days, pleading for help, until they finally got answers as to who was behind her bludgeoning.

Over months of investigating, Eyewitness News learned that Cecily Aguilar -- the girlfriend of the main suspect in Guillen's death, Aaron Robinson, an Army Specialist who was named a person of interest -- told investigators that Robinson forced her to participate in the crime.

SEE RELATED STORY: Gruesome details in report show how Vanessa Guillen may have been killed

Aguilar reportedly helped lead law enforcement to Robinson, before he was confronted and killed himself.

Guillen's family has maintained that she was sexually harassed before she was killed by another soldier, military sexual trauma survivors often forgo reporting abuse for fear of retaliation.

ABC13 has been following the Guillen story and the movement to get justice every step of the way.
We have documented it all in an ABC13 special called Vanessa Guillen: Remember Her Name. You can watch it now on Hulu and any ABC13 streaming app.

WATCH: Vanessa Guillen: Remember Her Name
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Houston Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen vanished on April 22, 2020 from Fort Hood. One year later, her family is sharing their grief, anger, and fight to force the most powerful military in the world to change.

For more news updates, follow Courtney Carpenter on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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