Army investigators have determined that Pvt. Ana Basaldua Ruiz’s death at Fort Cavazos, Texas, on March 12 was a suicide, according to their report obtained exclusively by Noticias Telemundo.
The report does not state the 20-year-old had been the victim of sexual harassment, as her family has claimed, but it cites diary entries, texts and conversations with friends and family in which she “made allegations of a physical assault from a fellow Soldier and harassment within her unit,” according to a summary of the probe conducted by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division.
Testimony given by co-workers and friends and family suggest that Basaldua struggled in her short-lived Army career both in her personal and professional relationships, and was worried about a pending separation from the Army for failing a drug test and for allegedly shoplifting from the Main Post Exchange at the base.
Her final internet search was “what happens when you get a dishonorable discharge,” according to the investigation.
In the first quarter of 2023, the Army documented 94 suicides among active duty members across the U.S., a 25% jump from the same period in 2022, when 75 soldiers died by suicide.
Basaldua’s death thrust Fort Cavazos, previously named Fort Hood, back into the spotlight following the 2020 grisly murder of Spec. Vanessa Guillén at the same post. The investigation of Guillén’s case found that she had reported sexual harassment, but unit leadership had not taken any action. The failure of the facility’s leaders to fully investigate led to a scathing report that condemned the culture of command at the military post, saying it allowed an environment for sexual assault and harassment.
During the 2022 fiscal year, the Department of Defense received 8,942 sexual assault complaints from members of the Armed Forces — eight out of 10 cases occurred during military service — a slight increase from the previous year.
The majority of sexual assaults in the military go unreported: Only 1 in 10 men and 3 in 10 women who experience sexual assaults report them, according to estimates by the Defense Department.
The investigation into Basaldua’s death brought forth investigations of at least two sexual harassment complaints she had made — one against a team leader and another against an arresting officer — but neither was upheld.
In addition, the Army’s examination of Basaldua’s diaries turned up a Dec. 10, 2022 entry in which she wrote that a soldier with whom she had a relationship choked and slapped her.
“He was choking me and I couldn’t move, and he thought that was super fun,” she wrote, though she did not report the incident.
“I felt really bad and I didn’t know how to leave,” she wrote. A friend of Basaldua’s had text messages showing she had contacted the friend asking for a call to leave the room the day of the choking, because she felt uncomfortable around the soldier after the incident.
That soldier, who is a sergeant, told investigators that he “slapped” and “choked” Basaldua Ruiz during sexual intercourse; he further admitted he “choked” her another time, but said he did it in a “playful” manner,” according to the report. He said that Basaldua did not let him know it had bothered her, according to his statement to investigators.
Basaldua’s father told investigators that his daughter had mentioned those incidents, and at least one other incident of a man coming to her room uninvited and trying to kiss her.
According to the report, along with her allegations of harassment and assault, Basaldua was dealing with an Article 15, a military charge for disciplinary infractions after she tested positive for THC, the ingredient found in marijuana. Also, in January 2023 she was in the process of Chapter 14 separation from the U.S. Army, which is issued for disciplinary infractions or misconduct.
Family and friends interviewed by investigators said that while she had wanted to leave the Army at some point, in the days before her death she was hoping she would be able to stay.
Her father, Baldo Basaldua, told Noticias Telemundo he does not believe his daughter died by suicide; her mother, Alejandra Ruiz Sarco, who lives in Mexico, also took issue with the report findings.
“My daughter did not commit suicide, my daughter was suicided,” Ruiz Sarco said in Spanish.
“When Ana joined the Army, she was a happy, energetic young woman with unlimited dreams and possibilities. Those are now gone. We have not received an explanation regarding her treatment in the days and hours prior to her death and what steps the Army took or didn’t take to prevent her death,” said Ryan Guilds, the family’s attorney.
The Army’s criminal investigation division confirmed in a statement to Noticias Telemundo that it has completed its investigation of Basaldua’s death. It said the division “has taken into account all possibilities, circumstances, relevant evidence, and incidents associated with the tragic death” of Basaldua. The findings have been transferred to the military command, investigators stated.
Fort Cavazos officials have not responded to questions sent to them by Noticias Telemundo about the report’s findings.
The investigators who looked into Basaldua’s death stated that the military base launched an investigation in June 2022 into a sexual harassment complaint by Basaldua about a team leader, who had been her sponsor and was assigned to act as a mentor and counselor.
Investigators did not conclude sexual harassment occurred. They found there had been an “inappropriate relationship” and “undue familiarity” between her and the leader. The leader denied the allegations and said he was the one uncomfortable with Basaldua; he said he asked that she be transferred, according to the investigation report.
Before the sexual harassment complaint was complete, Basaldua was transferred to another platoon and the leader was promoted in rank.
Army investigators did not identify the soldier who was the subject of the sexual harassment complaint. Fort Cavazos has not responded to questions on the case.
At least four other military personnel told investigators that Basaldua had told them of problems with her team leader. One said Basaldua told her he would flirt with her and make comments about her appearance and come unannounced to her barracks to “hang out.”
Others interviewed by investigators said Basaldua had shared text messages of her team leader harassing her for talking to others and making her uncomfortable by staring at her while she was in the gym.
A sergeant major who recruited Basaldua in California in 2019, and whose identity is not disclosed in the report, said that he was in contact with her and knew she felt she was being harassed by her co-workers at the base.
The recruiter said he’d warned Basaldua of “the realities of entering a male dominated MOS (military occupational specialty) as a female when she picked her job,” the investigation report said.
Another soldier told investigators that a sergeant of his platoon asked him to escort Basaldua to a vehicle yard because “the mechanics would make inappropriate comments toward females and make them uncomfortable.”
Other friends and co-workers interviewed said they had not seen evidence of sexual harassment, the report states.
Basaldua’s mother rejected the investigation results and criticized the decision of the base to transfer her daughter and to promote the team leader after her sexual harassment complaint.
“How is it not harassment? … Of course it was harassment! Obviously, it was harassment … I would’ve demoted (the soldier) or stripped him of his rank,” her mother said. “My daughter was not responsible for provoking anyone … By the end of January she complained: ‘Mom, why did you make me pretty? It’s like it’s a sin to be pretty. You have to go unnoticed, so they don’t bother you.’”
Basaldua’s life at the military base turned even more difficult in the months before her death.
A sergeant who was her friend at Fort Cavazos told investigators that Basaldua looked “depressed and sad” when he saw her in January. The friend told investigators that Basaldua “hated” being restricted to the base as punishment for testing positive for drugs, and “appeared depressed and wanted to be done with the Army.”
The report said the soldier said he thought his unit failed Basaldua by not giving her a second chance after she tested positive for drugs.
Basaldua’s father said she told him that a sergeant had told her that he could make the urinalysis results go away if she had sex with him, but he did not identify the sergeant; the investigation didn’t find any evidence regarding the father’s allegation.
On Feb. 21, Basaldua told a therapist on base that she wanted to stay in the Army and expressed hope that she would be allowed to continue in the service. On March 8, in another therapy session, she seemed happy and said she believed her commander would allow her to continue in the military, according to the investigators’ report.
On March 11, 2023, Basaldua and two other soldiers were arrested by military police after they tried to take six perfumes and one lip gloss from a store located inside Fort Cavazos. The value of the items they attempted to steal was $346, according to the incident report.
Basaldua admitted her guilt. “I’m willing to do anything I can to fix [this] and I’ll take my punishment for my actions, and I’m really sorry for what I did,” the young woman wrote in the affidavit she gave to the military police.
The same day, after 9 p.m., the young woman spoke by video call with her father and told him about the incident, saying that it had been bad, but that the police had been nice to her.
On Sunday, March 12, she reported to work at 9 a.m. and was released from her duties an hour later. It was the last time she was seen alive, according to the report.
Soldiers interviewed by the investigators said Basaldua was distraught over the possibility of being isolated from the Army after her arrest. Analysis of her phone records showed that her last internet entry was at 9:30 a.m. that Sunday, when she searched: “What happens when you get a dishonorable discharge?”
Ten minutes later, she sent her last text messages to her dad: “My whole life is wrong.” She also wrote to him that she wanted to die, although her father interpreted it as just an exaggerated expression.
“I took them as her normal responses: she’s angry, she’s tired. I never felt like it was something she was going to do,” Baldo Basaldua said.