Family, friends and community gathered at a Houston high school for a memorial service in honor of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old U.S. Army specialist who was brutally murdered in April.
Massive crowds gathered at the Fort Hood soldier’s alma mater to pay their final respects in what’s expected to be an 8-hour public memorial service.
The Catholic service will be streamed live from the Cesar Chavez High School, where there once was as a “passionate” high school athlete, school district officials said. She played soccer, ran track and cross country, and graduated in the top 15% of her class in 2018, according to her family.
The Houston Independent School District said it was honored to host the memorial and noted that it “stands united” with the slain soldier’s family.
“At Chavez, she is remembered as an avid soccer player who was kind, hard-working, and passionate about making a positive difference in the world,” the district said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with her loved ones, including family, friends, former classmates, and former teachers.”
Guillen’s family honored her as “a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teammate, a girlfriend, a grandchild, a warrior, a life, a wonderful person,” in a Facebook post Tuesday, which encouraged the public to attend the service.
“Anyone is welcome to come by and pay their respects to U.S Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen,” the post said. “Please share and if you can, please attend the event for Vanessa Guillen. Let’s honor her beautiful life and thank Vanessa Guillen for her service into serving the United States.”
In a subsequent post Thursday, the family reminded people that Friday would not be about justice or military reform, but it will be a day to honor Guillen.
“Friday will be the day of Honoring-Remembering-Cheering-Praying-Respecting her beautiful life God gave her,” the post said. “Vanessa Guillen, we love you always and forever, you may not be with us physically, but spiritually you are! A beautiful young lady gone to soon and taken away from her family.”
People were encouraged to bring flowers, candles, paintings of Vanessa and other items to honor her. All attendees were required to wear masks.
Natalie Khawam, a Guillen family spokesperson, told The Associated Press that the family was thankful to President Donald Trump because the White House helped to expedite the process of giving Guillen’s remains to the family so they could have a funeral.
She said five military officers from Arlington National Cemetery will be in Houston for the ceremony to ensure the memorial is done as if she had been buried in Virginia, according to The AP.
President Trump vowed to help the family with funeral expenses after meeting with him in the Oval Office. “If you need help with the funeral financially, I will help,” the president told the family.
Guillen went missing from Fort Hood, one of the country’s largest military bases in April. After months of searching, her body was recovered in June.
Her family says months before she went missing, she told them she’d been sexually harassed by a sergeant.
“Six months… at the base, my daughter was sad, with bags under her eyes, skinny,” her mother, Gloria Guillen, told ABC News last month. “[Vanessa] told me, ‘I am being sexually harassed by a sergeant,’” she said. “‘Jesus Christ no,’ I said, ‘Have you already reported that bastard?’ [She said,] ‘I haven’t reported him Mami, because they won’t believe me. They laugh at all the girls that have gone and they don’t believe them.’”