Fort Hood’s top commander said Friday night that a criminal investigation into the death of Pvt. Ana Basalduaruiz “rules nothing out,” but so far “there are no indications of foul play.”
Basalduaruiz. 20, of Long Beach, California, who was from Mexico, died on Monday – the circumstances are unclear.
The post said nothing about how she might have died, but her parents said she was sexually molested at Fort Hood. She was assigned to the 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team in December 2021 after joining the Army in July of the same year.
Lieutenant General Sean Bernabe declined to give details “in the interest of the family’s privacy”.
“What I will tell you is that we are aware of some stressors in Ana’s life, not related to harassment, but stressors in her life, and I know that CID will thoroughly investigate these stressors as they try to figure out the context, circumstances and possibly causes of his death,” Bernabe said at a press conference at Fort Hood.
It would not confirm claims that the Army had told the family she died by suicide and said, “CID is careful not to assume anything or exclude anything, and I refer this question to CID as they conduct their investigation.”
CID, an acronym for the Army Criminal Investigation Division, said in a brief statement, “Although there has been public comment, there have been no indications of foul play at this point.”
Bernabe said that Basalduaruiz’s parents were expected to visit Fort Hood in the near future. He sent a command message to troops and civilians at the sprawling post, home to the 1st Cavalry Division and other early combat units, urging them to report harassment of any kind.
“Let’s be clear: we do not tolerate harassment of any kind. Harassment of any kind is contrary to Army values,” Bernabe said. “Harassment destroys the cohesion of our teams and erodes our readiness. Harassment is unacceptable.”
He told soldiers and civilians who may know of past or ongoing harassment involving Basalduaruiz or any other soldier to come forward to their leaders or report it to criminal investigators.
“We want to know,” Bernabe said. I want to know it.
Bernabe said investigators were inconclusive, but added: “We are aware of allegations that Ana was molested prior to her death. The CID is currently investigating these allegations and will be investigating the allegations fully.
Basalduaruiz’s death threatened to ignite a new scandal, just as Spc. The case of Vanessa Guillén yes. Guillén, a 20-year-old from Houston, also told her family she was sexually harassed. She was subsequently beaten by a fellow soldier.
Alejandra Ruiz Zarco said her daughter had told her weeks ago that a high-ranking soldier was “harassing” her and that she had been subjected to repeated sexual advances by other people at the scene, Noticias Telemundo reported.
“(She told me) that she wanted to see me, that she wanted to hug me and she wanted me to hug her a lot, like when she was little,” Ruiz Zarco told Telemundo.
Neither Ruiz Zarco nor Basalduaruiz’s father, Baldo Basaldua, responded to requests for interviews on Friday.
Bernabe had previously credited his predecessor with elaborating on the recommendations made by Fort Hood’s Independent Review Committee following Guillén’s death.
The investigation revealed a number of problems that ultimately cost the acting commander of Fort Hood, Major General Scott Efflandt, and the top leaders of the 1st Cavalry Division their jobs. In all, 14 leaders up and down the chain of command were removed from their posts following Guillén’s death, which sparked a national uproar as his family complained of commanders’ indifference.
At Friday’s press conference, Bernabe stressed that the commanders and investigators were in contact with Basalduaruiz’s parents and had spoken to them five times in the past four days.
“As we speak, a team from Fort Hood is in the field in California with Ana’s father,” he said, adding that Basalduaruiz’s battalion commander had just completed an initial meeting with him to provide information and assistance.
“We now want to be very careful to protect the privacy of Ana’s family as they grieve her loss,” Bernabe said. “So I won’t share meeting details, but I will tell you this: We remain committed to keeping open lines of communication with Ana’s family as we move forward. We expect them to visit Fort Hood in the near future and are ready to welcome and support them during their visit.
A series of policy changes were implemented at Fort Hood following Guillén’s death.
The Army, in late 2020, changed the way it accounts for missing soldiers, who are often suspected to be absent, following Guillén’s disappearance. Now classifies missing soldiers as “unknown” for 48 hours. The Army said it listed 117 soldiers as AWOL two years ago, of which 113 returned to Fort Hood. Another 33 were listed as deserters, including some who left office the previous year.
A new federal law, the “I Am Vanessa Guillén Act,” was signed into law by President Joe Biden in late December 2021. It stripped the right of commanders to order trials for defendants in sexual assault and harassment cases. Up until this point, US military commanders had always decided when to court-martial for a variety of crimes. That authority preceded the formation of the Continental Army.
Bernabe noted that postal commanders had taken steps “to make sure we are equipped to respond very quickly and aggressively to understand and get to the truth when we see an allegation or hear an allegation of this, and again, act quickly”. He added that when he took command of Fort Hood, he instructed troops to care for soldiers, civilians and their families; develop competent, engaged and empathetic leaders; and build cohesive, inclusive and disciplined teams.
“Ana’s death reminds us that we must remain true to these imperatives as we move forward,” he said.