A 20-year-old U.S. Army private at Fort Hood, Texas, who told her family that she was being sexually harassed was found dead this week, prompting fresh outrage and calls for accountability on the sprawling military base, which has a history of high rates of sexual assault.
The private, Ana Basaldua Ruiz, of Long Beach, California, had served for the past 15 months as a combat engineer with the 1st Cavalry Division after joining the Army in 2021. Fort Hood officials said she died Monday, but they have not released any information about the cause or manner of her death.
The Department of the Army Criminal Investigation Division confirmed that "no foul play is evident," Fort Hood said in a statement Thursday.
"Army CID will continue to conduct a thorough investigation and gather all evidence and facts to ensure they discover exactly what transpired," the statement said. "Information related to any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully."
Fort Hood has been under intense scrutiny since the killing of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old Army specialist, who was reported missing from the base in Killeen, Texas, in April 2020, after telling friends that she had been sexually harassed. Federal prosecutors said she was killed by another soldier who later in 2020 killed himself with a pistol, days before charges were announced.
Basaldua's mother, Alejandra Ruiz Zarco, told Telemundo News that her daughter had told her a few weeks ago that an Army superior "was harassing her" and that she was the target of repeated sexual advances on the base.
Ruiz, who lives in Mexico, last spoke to her daughter on March 8. Basaldua had told her mother that she was "very sad, that she was going through very difficult things, that things were not as normal as she thought, that she couldn't tell me much, but that there was going to be a moment when we were going to be together and she could tell me everything," Ruiz told Telemundo News in Spanish.
Basaldua's father, Baldo Basaldua, who lives in California, said his daughter had recently told him that "her whole life was wrong, that she wanted to die," Telemundo News reported. Her parents did not immediately respond to messages seeking further comment.
At a news conference outside Fort Hood on Friday, leaders of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, called on the FBI to investigate Basaldua's death, saying it was important for investigators outside the military to examine the circumstances. The league was "deeply concerned by reports from her family that their daughter was the target of repeated sexual harassment," Analuisa Tapia, the group's district director in Killeen, said at the news conference.
An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the league's request.
After Guillen's killing led to protests, an investigation released in December 2020 found "major flaws" at Fort Hood and a command climate that the secretary of the Army described as "permissive of sexual harassment and sexual assault." The Army ordered 14 officials, including several high-ranking leaders, to be relieved of command or suspended. A study released in 2021 by the Rand Corp. Arroyo Center, a federally funded research group, found that women at Fort Hood had a far higher risk of sexual assault than the average woman in the Army. Researchers found that the total sexual assault risk to Army women at Fort Hood in 2018 was 8.4%, compared with a 5.8% risk for all women in the Army.
The researchers found younger age was also associated with an increased risk for sexual assault, as were low education levels and junior rank. Fort Hood and Fort Bliss -- another installation in Texas with above-average rates of assault -- have large numbers of young, junior-ranking soldiers.
For some, Basaldua's death suggests that not enough has changed at the base, even after President Joe Biden signed legislation intended to overhaul the way the military responds to reports of sexual harassment. The measure was named in honor of Guillen.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, urged the Army to fully investigate Basaldua's death, "including an evaluation of why Ft. Hood is still failing to keep young soldiers safe."
"Reports of sexual harassment before Pvt. Basalduaruiz's death are disturbing," he said on Twitter. "Congress passed into law provisions of the I Am Vanessa Guillén Act to address issues of sexual assault & harassment in the military. We need to know if these protections are being fully implemented."
Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Texas, also expressed concern. "Pvt. Ana Basalduaruiz deserved to live freely without harassment and abuse," she said on Twitter. "My heart goes out to her family and to all the women who were ignored or forgotten by a biased system that failed them."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.