LA Times profiles LaVena’s story

by Philip Barron on March 9, 2009 · 13 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

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