Death of Ana Basaldua Ruiz raises questions about sexual harassment at Fort Hood

The army is investigating the death of the 21-year-old private, which comes three years after Vanessa Guillén was murdered at the military base in Texas

Ana Basaldua Ruiz
Soldier Ana Fernanda Basaldua, 21, in a photograph released by her family.Familia Basaldua (EFE)

The death of soldier Ana Basaldua Ruiz has deepened the shadow hanging over the controversial Fort Hood base in Texas. Her death on Monday is the latest to occur at the army base, which is located 150 miles southwest of Dallas. The most well-known victim from Fort Hood is Vanessa Guillén, who was bludgeoned to death by another soldier.

On Thursday, the U.S. army confirmed that it was investigating the death of Basaldua, a 21-year-old from Mexico who had been serving as a combat engineer for the past 15 months. Basaldua’s body was found in a maintenance bay.

Following the news, Basaldua’s father, Baldo Basaldua, posted an emotional message on social media. “I can’t believe it. I miss you with all my heart,” he wrote.

In an interview with the Spanish-language press in the U.S., Baldo Basaldua — who is originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán but now lives in California — said he spoke with his daughter on Saturday. On Sunday, she was no longer replying to his messages. On Monday, representatives from the army came to the restaurant where he worked to tell him that she had died. According to the Spanish-language TV network Telemundo, military authorities believe that it was a suicide.

Baldo Basaldua also told the press that his daughter was unhappy and that her life “was bad.” “She wanted to die,” he told Telemundo.

The mother’s victim, Alejandra Ruiz Zarco — who is separated from Baldo Basaldua and lives in the Mexican town of Tacámbaro — told the same network that her daughter had been harassed by one of her superiors, and that other residents of the base had made sexual overtures. On Thursday, however, Zarco did not want to further comment on her statements.

Ana Fernanda Basaldua, in an image from her Facebook page.
Ana Fernanda Basaldua, in an image from her Facebook page.Ana Fernanda Basaldua (Facebook)

In a statement released on Wednesday, Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officials said there was no sign of “foul play” in Ana Fernanda Basaldúa Ruiz’s death. “Army CID will continue to conduct a thorough investigation and gather all evidence and facts to ensure they discover exactly what transpired. Information related to any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully,” the statement said.

Basaldua’s parents have both complained in different interviews about the lack of information from military authorities. The silence underscores the dark history of Fort Hood, which had the second-highest suicide rate in 2022.

The death comes three years after the murder of Vanessa Guillén, who disappeared for two months before she was found dismembered near the base. Before the murder, Guillén had complained that she was being sexually harassed by a fellow soldier, but no one took action. That same soldier killed her by hitting her over the head with a hammer. He later killed himself. Twenty-one officers received disciplinary action following the murder.

An independent panel found Fort Hood to be “permissive of sexual harassment and assault.” The report was based on the testimony of 507 women. It collected 93 accounts of alleged sexual crimes, only 59 of which had been reported. In the case of sexual harassment, the panel found 135 credible cases, but only 72 had been taken to authorities. The rate of sexual crimes at Fort Hood is 75% higher than the average of other army bases. In the last five years, the CID has also opened investigations into 50 suicides and 11 murders at the military base.

Basaldua lived in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles. She enlisted in the army in 2020, when she moved from Michoacán to California. Her military training was delayed due to the pandemic, and finally began in July 2021. At the end of that year, she was assigned to the 91st Engineer Battalion as part of the 1st Cavalry Division.

“The Army Criminal Investigation Division and the chain of command are actively investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding her death,” the base said in a statement.

For now, the death of Private Basaldua is casting a shadow over Fort Hood’s already dark reputation.

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