Former soldier charged with killing pregnant Army private 2 decades ago

ByJanai Norman ABCNews logo
Monday, February 27, 2023
Cold case solved: Former soldier charged with killing pregnant army private 2 decades ago
A young army private, who was four months pregnant, was discovered dead in her barracks and now authorities say they've found her killer.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla. -- A former soldier has been arrested in a cold case killing going back two decades.

A break in the decades-old cold case comes with an arrest in the murder of a pregnant 19-year-old soldier found beaten and strangled on a U.S. Army base in Germany 21 years ago.

Army Private Amanda Gonzales was four months pregnant when she was killed.

Her family saying they never gave up hope the case would be solved.

"We just looked at each other like, did we just hear what he -- what he just said," said Mike Bates.

When she didn't report for duty Monday, November 5, 2001, soldiers broke down the door to her room to find her on the floor of the barracks. Officials ruled it a homicide by asphyxiation.

"That knock on the door happens," said Gonzales' mother Gloria Bates. "Yeah. And it's a parent's..."

"Worst nightmare," her husband, Mike, finished.

For 21 agonizing years, her family has been asking questions and getting no answers as investigators made no arrests.

"It was just the same call. Every... Once a week I'd get a call, answer it, nothing new, saying it was the same story. It was like a recording," Gloria said. "Every time we come visit her graveside, I tell her I'm not giving up. I am not giving up."

But then, that break. The Justice Department named Shannon L. Wilkerson, a former Armed Forces member, as the suspect. He was arrested in Florida Thursday and is now facing one count of first-degree murder in Gonzales' death. He faces a max sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Wilkerson has pleaded not guilty.

"There is no statute of limitations for murder," said former FBI agent, Brad Garrett. "To charge somebody in federal court with murder, you have to have a fair amount of information and evidence to show that you could win this case in a trial."

Officials say Wilkerson was an active duty soldier in 2001 and was later discharged.

Private Gonzales' murder is just one of many examples of violence against women in the military. Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen was also murdered in 2020, sparking nationwide calls for reform within the army.

Gloria leaned on Guillen's family to get through this difficult time.

"I spoke to her mother and, you know, and she just went over everything with me, and I told her don't give up. Keep going," Gloria said.

The arrest marked the next chapter in the investigation that lasted longer than Gonzales lived and came not a moment too soon.

"She still instilled that fighting spirit because she was a fighter and in it allowed all of us to keep going for her and to never give up," said Gonzales' cousin, Deann Lucio.

"We have to continue on and fight for them because they can't fight for themselves. They don't have a voice. You're their voice," Gloria said.