Military investigators at Fort Hood said there was no foul play in the death of Pvt. Ana Basaldua Ruiz, who was stationed at the Texas Army post, as her family raises accusations that she was being sexually harassed.
Basaldua Ruiz, a 20-year-old combat engineer with the 1st Cavalry Division, died Monday, according to a statement from Fort Hood.
“The Army Criminal Investigation Division and the chain of command are actively investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding her death,” the statement, released Wednesday, said.
Basaldua Ruiz’s mother, Alejandra Ruiz Zarco, was told by Army officials that Basaldua Ruiz died by suicide, the mother told CNN affiliate Univision and Telemundo News.
Ruiz Zarco told both outlets she questions the claim and says her daughter was being sexually harassed at the base.
The Army would not confirm Basaldua Ruiz’s cause of death to CNN but said in a statement that “any possible harassment will be addressed and investigated fully.”
“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.
In a news conference Friday evening, Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Sean Bernabe said the criminal investigation division – which is independent of Fort Hood’s chain of command – is “not ruling anything out and will investigate the circumstances leading up to Ana’s death fully and completely.”
The allegations of harassment are being investigated, Bernabe said, adding “we do not tolerate harassment of any type.”
Basaldua Ruiz’s family members will soon be visiting the base, and Bernabe said the army remains “committed to maintaining open lines of communication” with the family and are prepared to “receive them and to support them” during the visit.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the US, called for an independent FBI investigation into Basaldua Ruiz’s death.
The organization wants the probe to be conducted outside the Army structure and for the evidence to be identified, assessed and evaluated independently, said league spokesperson David Cruz.
Basaldua Ruiz’s death comes three years after the murder of Fort Hood Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who disappeared in April 2020 and was later found dead in a shallow grave. Her family said Guillén was being sexually harassed and planned to file a complaint; she was killed the day before she would have filed it. The suspect, a fellow Fort Hood soldier, killed himself after being confronted by police, officials said. Guillén’s family said the man became enraged when he found out she planned to file a sexual harassment report and killed her.
An investigation in the wake of Guillén’s death led to the punishment of 14 senior officers and raised concerns about the culture at the base.
The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee found “a deficient climate” there, including “ineffective implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program that resulted in a pervasive lack of confidence, fear of retaliation, and significant underreporting of cases, particularly within the enlisted ranks,” the Pentagon said in 2020.
Basaldua Ruiz was from Long Beach, California, and entered the Army in 2021, officials said. She had been assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division for 15 months.
“A loss of any one of our Soldiers is a tragedy,” said Col. Christopher Dempsey, commander, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of Ana.”