A white horse-drawn carriage covered with flowers carried the remains of slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen Friday afternoon.
Vanessa's younger sister, Lupe, sat on the carriage as it made its way to the Cesar E. Chavez High School in Houston, Texas for a memorial service honoring the memory of the Army Specialist before her burial Saturday.
Family and friends wearing face masks and white t-shirts reading #JusticeForVanessaGuillen received Vanessa's body inside the high school among tears, sobs and hugs. Seven ROTC military members carried in the casket decorated with Virgin Mary portraits as well as the flags of Mexico and the United States.
The Cesar E. Chavez High School community remembered Guillen as an avid athlete who was part of the school's soccer, track and cross country teams and graduated in the top 15 percent of her class in 2018, according to the Guillen family.
Mexican and Spanish-language gospel music as well as Selena Quintanilla's "Dreaming of You" filled the room as they all waited for one of Vanessa's cousins to start the bilingual ceremony.
"Our beautiful Vanessa Guillen is in heaven alongside our Lord Jesus Christ," her cousin said in Spanish.
Guillen, 20, was last seen alive on April 22 at the Fort Hood military base. Her dismembered remains were found near the base two months later. When police moved in to arrest Spc. Aaron Robinson, 20, in connection to her disappearance, he shot and killed himself, authorities said in early July. Shortly afterward, a 22-year-old woman identified as Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, was arrested on federal charges of tampering with evidence for allegedly helping him dispose of Guillen's body. Aguilar, who pleaded "not guilty," is due in court Sept. 28.
"It's very difficult for me to be standing here during my sister's memorial service," said Lupe in Spanish. "But I know she must be up in heaven giving me the strength I need."
"Vanessa Guillen is the definition of beauty and strength," she said. "But I assure you that she is okay now."
Cesar E. Chavez High School staff and teachers paid their respects to Vanessa, while practicing social distancing, after Lupe's speech.
Singer Ge'La sang soothing Catholic gospel songs after giving a moving speech for Gloria Guillen, Vanessa's mother, and the rest of the family.
"We'll never be able to understand this kind of pain because we're just blood and flesh, but God does understand. That's why he never leaves us," said Ge'La in Spanish.
The day-long memorial service is expected to end at 8 p.m. with more speeches from members of the Guillen family and praises to God as well as a living rosary prayer, according to the family.
A caravan honoring Guillen is planned for 5 p.m. Saturday, ahead of a private funeral service and burial.