LA Times profiles LaVena’s story

by Philip Barron on March 9, 2009 · 16 comments

lavena_latimes

The Los Angeles Times has published a story by David Zucchino on Lavena Johnson, her death in Iraq, and her family’s ongoing struggle to repudiate the Army’s claim that she took her own life. It

Reporting from Florissant, Mo. — Inside the tidy suburban St. Louis home of John and Linda Johnson, no photos of their eldest daughter grace the walls. Army Pfc. LaVena Johnson was just 19 when she died in Iraq in 2005; to this day her parents cannot bear to display reminders of her life.

John Johnson does possess other photos of his daughter — explicit color shots of her autopsy and death scene. He shows them to a visitor. They are horrifying: LaVena in a pool of blood. LaVena’s corpse on a coroner’s table. [...]

There was no suicide note, no recovered bullet and no significant gunshot residue on her hands. But the Army cited fellow soldiers’ reports that she was depressed and had spoken of killing herself.

Johnson maintains that his daughter was raped and killed, and that her death scene was staged to make it appear as if she shot herself. He accuses the Army of covering up for a killer or killers to conceal a soldier-on-soldier slaying, explaining that military personnel would have had unrestricted access to the area where his daughter died and therefore would not have attracted undue attention.

If LaVena’s death were investigated as a homicide, Johnson added, it would raise questions about base security and discourage women from enlisting.

The Zucchino story, written with both clarity and sensitivity, relays the pain that LaVena’s family has dealt with every day since LaVena’s death, a pain shared by other military families in similar straits:

Like the Johnsons, other families have questioned the military’s suicide findings in the deaths of their daughters in Iraq or Afghanistan. They too accuse the military of jumping to conclusions and ignoring evidence of murder.

But these grieving families have discovered that there are no clear answers and few conclusive facts, only murky evidence that can be interpreted more than one way. The result is a climate of mistrust and suspicion that leaves the military on the defensive and the families feeling deceived.

The families have had an determined advocate in retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, who has been quoted many times in this website.

Wright accuses the military of withholding evidence pointing to sexual assaults and other attacks on female service members.

She contends that the military has been too quick to close the cases of some women’s deaths as suicides without conducting thorough homicide investigations. She accuses the military of stonewalling families who question its findings.

“What the military is doing is egregious,” she said. “In many cases, they have the information the families want but refuse to release it. These families are really fighting upstream.”

Zucchino’s story is well-written, and highly recommended for anyone unfamiliar with LaVena Johnson.

1 Linda March 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I think this is a terrible, horrific way to die and my thoughts and prayers are with the family. Just don’t stop no matter what the government throws at you. Justice needs to be served in this case and soon. There is definitely too much violence toward woman, not only in the military, but each day in the world and there has to be some answers of how to stop it somewhere. I wish the family luck, patience, hope, and mostly some kind of closure. Hang touch, I believe she would want that. God bless you all.

2 nolen nunley March 11, 2009 at 6:19 pm

I SERVED IN THE ARMY AND I AM VERY UPSET THAT THE VERY BRANCH THAT I SERVED IN WOULD TREAT ONE OF THERE OWN THIS WAY I AM DISGRACE AT THE WAY THE ARMY HAS WANTED TO HANDLE THIS TRAGIC THING TO HAPPEN TO THIS YOUNG LADY AND A AMERICAN MILITARY PERSONNAL WHAT A DAMN SHAME I HAVE LOST ALL RESPECT FOR THE U.S. TOP PERSONNEL THAT SHOULD HAVE HANDLED THIS SAD THING I AM BEHIND HER FAMILY 1000% IN GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS TRAGIC EVENT……

3 Leonard Rogers March 11, 2009 at 8:22 pm

i sorry for his loss the military coverup while in the service they is lot of coverup
it must be a officer high rank person that kill your daughter
that person must pay.

4 Parker March 12, 2009 at 3:35 am

I am so sad right now. i am a veteran and i served oversea in that same place (Baghdad). I’ve lived in camp tahji and i know already how unsafe it is there. anything can happen to u because the military is not concerned with their own kind harming one another. it goes unseen if a female soldier is harrassed or assaulted. i’ve been threw it and i dont plan on ever going back. I want to express my deepest sympathy for the family and i pray the johnson family continue their fight for justice. u just don’t sweep this kind of gruesome horrible situation under the covers its wrong! wrong! wrong! and the U.S Army should be ashame.this act was definitely someone with higher ranking and it should be handled accordingly. i am so upset,really i served my country and she tried to do the same only to be murdered….

I will continue my prayers for the Johnson family

5 steve March 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

this website is the hardest site to navigate around in and actually see what the real story is. Instead we have links to more links and none of those links have anything to do with this case. interesting case IF one can get a story on it……………..instead of all the other BS

6 monique May 13, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Justice needs to be done. God is able to make these people come to truth. I believe eventually we will know the truth.
to the family stay strong and dont give up on searching for answers.
God Bless you and will bless you

7 Keith May 18, 2009 at 11:31 am

When are we gonna hit the streets and protest?

8 Melissa May 31, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Sad stuff. Justice must be served.

9 KEITH June 17, 2009 at 6:30 pm

CONTACT ME PLEASE I KNEW HER AND I KNOW THAT THEY COVERED UP HER DEATH I KNOW THEY DID I WAS IN THE UNIT AND YOUR DAUGHTER WAS A GREAT YOUNG LADY. I WISH THAT I KNEW WHO DID IT BUT I DO NOT BUT I WANT CLOSURE FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ALSO. GOD BLESS MAY THE LORD BE WITH YOU ALL. I HOPE TO SPEAK TO ONE OF YOU SOMETIME SOON.

10 Luke Easter July 17, 2009 at 6:19 am

LaVena Johnson (In Memorial) Where Is The Justice?

Just when you think you

11 Caprice N. Manos October 6, 2009 at 5:27 pm

NEW PETITION FOR “SAFE-HOUSE” FOR SOLDIERS! in Washington, D.C. via Caprice Manos and Congressman Tim Ryan’s office of Youngstown, Ohio. If you would like to sign the online counterpart so that the females will have a safe house while writing reports and so that things will not be able to be covered up anymore, please visit: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/Safe-HouseForSoldiers/

Very Sincerely,
Caprice N. Manos/ “Spiritjustice”

12 SGT Teague October 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I am uphauled at this act. As a leader, if any of my soldiers ever even thought of such an act, they would find them selves out of my Army. If they acted upon it, they would get a good Wall-to-Wall counseling, and be spending there days in jail. My prayers are with the family, and I also pray that who ever commited this act will be brought to justice, and to God. Army Strong. Hooah!

13 Christina Nichols December 16, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Please tell me how to get ahold of John Johnson, or give him my email address, I would like to talk to him.

My son died – Army

14 Lori February 11, 2010 at 7:30 pm

This horrible story further sheds light on the reality of how unsafe women and children are in society. Although, I have worked in the media, I had never seen or heard of this case until today. Although, my effotrs may be small, I assure you that I will spread her story just as far and wide as I possibly can. My deepest prayers and condolences to the Johnson family.

15 Minnie Mouse July 3, 2010 at 5:49 am

I am 100% behind the family, my heartfelt condolence. I served in Iraq as well and was assaulted by a Major from a Reserve unit from Germany with a 9mm. I was harassed and mentally abused. I kept a diary of the daily abuse. Upon my return to my unit in Germany, the first thing I did was to speak to the CSM of the then 7th Arcom, that proved to be the worse mistake of my military career. After that my life got worse. I hope that someone out there read these comments, there is something really wrong. Many soldiers die of suicide in our military, not because of the armed forces itself, but because of harassment from the higher ranks to the lower ranks. In Iraq I was pissed when the very same Master Sergeant briefs us on Sexual Harassment and Racism and he, himself was the one doing all of these things. I hope and Pray that President Barrack Obama finds out about what is going on and fix it and I mean nip it in the bud. I want to say the the Active Army or active duty is not bad, but the National Guard and Reserves in Mainland U.S.A is very “red neck and political”, for example the General might be also the Governor of a State and his cousin the commander and his school buddy the of another unit and so on. You can not complain to the chain of command because that might be his or her best friend or family member you are speaking about and if it is so, your life in the military is over. The military should have a reform, for example it should placed under a separate civilian office such as the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security. It against the law for a person who holds a public office to also be a member of the military. It should be against the law for a family member such as a General to be in the same chain of command with another family member. The law should be changed so that every lower enlisted that falls under an NCO, CO, XO and so on, participate in that soldier’s evaluation report, and all these reports should go to a civilian office whom the army fall under, let’s say the FBI or Homeland Security to review these reports written by the lower echelon and then weigh the evaluation of these senior enlisted and officers. As is now the NCOER’s and OER are done by their own peers, the lower enlisted which are hundred of soldiers that work under that say officer or NCO has nothing to do with the performance or evaluation of this person. I hope this change. Soon!!

16 Minnie Mouse July 3, 2010 at 6:37 am

I forgot to add that the person who assaulted me with the 9mm, did so, in front of his peers. The XO was present and saw it. Two majors were present and saw it. One captain was present and saw it. As soon as I returned from from Iraq and blew the whistle, I was so bombarded with counseling statements for every thing on the book you can imagine. My life was so unbearable that I felt helpless, the higher I went through the chain of command, the worse things got. I love the army so much I wanted to stay, I did my best on PT, I scored the best on the M249 machine gun, the best in the whole unit. I was always in every school that they ever sent me, an honor graduate. Everywhere they sent me and had to do with an active duty unit, I was always the best. Except the 7th Arcom. In Germany. It finally came to the point of either killing myself or get out and join the IRR, I chose the later, but this also proved to be a fatal mistake. Somehow the 7th Arcom made sure that I never return to the Army Reserve in any shape or form. The IRR transferred me to mandatory retirement with a code that I can never return or volunteer to fight for my country. In Iraq while in a hospital in Baghdad out of my better judgment I asked a female MP to take pictures with me with the prisoners that were injured in the hospital. My intentions were to show back home how the prisoners were treated versus the American soldiers in the Hospital. I was a patient myself, and I was sleeping on a cot. The prisoners were sleeping in a thick mattress and nice crispy white sheets and I with a green itchy green blanket. The prisoners had hot meals with real meat, and I MRE’s. That was my intentions to capture on film I even fed one of these prisoners and capture it on video. I have asked one of the MP’s to lend me his MP brasar so I can wear, I myself was an MP but my duties in Iraq really had nothing to do with being an MP, so to make a story short, I got into a lot of trouble. Unknowingly to most of us there was a top secret investigation about the Abu prison where allegedly Americans were abusing prisoners. Any how, the hospital staff confiscated my film and as a result I was busted one rank with forfeiture of pay, extra duty and I was to write about the Army Values do every Tuesday.
In this film there was nothing abusive, on the contrary, other wise I would have really been burned. In our unit was another female which came from the states to support our unit. This female I as well as another NCO caught her in bed with an officer, the other NCO reported this incident to the commander and he, to my astonishment was yelled at. Remember the MSG whom I stated before gave us mandatory classes on sexual harassment? he, in front of many eye witness would come to my room where this female was and pick her up to “take a shower” this men would come with a towel wrapped around his waist. This female eventually made E-6 and I was busted for taking pictures of the prisoners, the same female was offered a job working at the HHC 7th ARCOM. This female was put on active duty, got her teeth fixed by an orthodontist (which I as bad as I needed braces, could not get it done, because you have to be in active duty status to get braces) after returning from Iraq, you get only six months to fix what is wrong with the body however, the waiting list for orthodontist work is about six months long, so by the time you get an appointment is too late. I will tell you, I do not want people to think that the U.S. Armed Forces is this corrupt. Had this happen in active duty unit, the major who assualted me would have been in jail before you can blink. If the MSG had been in an active duty unit not reserves, and was seen with only a towel wraped around him walking around with a female E-5 next to him “to take a shower” in front of everyone, that MSG would not be here to tell the tale. But I was trained in the real Active Army. I took my army values seriously but I, was the minority. I feel that it took from me a lot of courage and valor to face the chain of command for what is right. Everytime a female or a young soldier dies, specially at a young age, and I read: A. Reserves or National Guard, B. Under 24 years of age, C. Cause of death: “non Combat related” I feel right away a spiritual connection with that soldier. I have a lot of hope with President Obama, I feel this is the only chance we will ever get to fix something that has been wrong for a very long time.

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