A candlelight vigil will be held to honor Specialist Vanessa Guillen, a soldier whose tragic murder earlier this year made national headlines.
The vigil will be held Monday, September 14 – about two weeks before Guillen would have turned 21 – at 7:30 p.m. at the Veteran’s Memorial on Union Avenue.
Guillen’s death has also brought attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the military after her friends and fellow soldiers revealed she had told them she had been a victim.
Mayor Michael Melham, Deputy Mayor Thomas Graziano and others will take part. Belleville’s Lucy Del Gaudio, who served eight years in the Army and is a military sexual trauma survivor, is scheduled to speak at the vigil.
In a fight for legislative reforms to protect sexual trauma victims like Guillen, Del Gaudio shared her story in July when she testified before Congress.
Although Guillen was stationed more than a thousand miles away at Fort Hood in her native Texas, Del Gaudio said it was appropriate to have a vigil in Belleville because her death connects with so many – the Latino community, military families and victims of abuse and violence.
“This is a way to honor her and bring awareness to military sexual trauma and harassment,” Del Gaudio said. “I also think this is an opportunity for us to pray for Vanessa’s family,” Melham added. “We can pray they find the answers they are looking for in her tragic death.”
Guillen’s remains were found more than two months after she disappeared from Fort Hood. Guillen’s mother and sister and others marched to the Texas State Capitol on Monday in their call for new legislation.
The “I am Vanessa Guillen” bill would create an outside avenue for soldiers needing to report sexual assault and harassment within the military.