LA Times profiles LaVena’s story

March 9, 2009 by Philip Barron  Email This Post Print This Post

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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.

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10 Responses to “LA Times profiles LaVena’s story”

  1. Linda on March 11th, 2009 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 on March 11th, 2009 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 on March 11th, 2009 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 on March 12th, 2009 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 on March 22nd, 2009 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 on May 13th, 2009 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 on May 18th, 2009 11:31 am

    When are we gonna hit the streets and protest?

  8. Melissa on May 31st, 2009 5:00 pm

    Sad stuff. Justice must be served.

  9. KEITH on June 17th, 2009 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 on July 17th, 2009 6:19 am

    LaVena Johnson (In Memorial) Where Is The Justice?

    Just when you think you’ve heard it all,
    Another name is slammed into a brick wall,
    LaVena Johnson an Army Private First Class,
    Is she the first? Certainly this PFC isn’t the last.

    Is it any wonder Osama Bin Laden can’t be found?
    With a criminal loose in our camp running around,
    Destroying evidence, burning bodies, again & again,
    Calling themselves soldiers, claiming they are men.

    What a shame when the real enemy is on the same side,
    Behind the color of camaraderie these cowards hide,
    Punched in the face, loose teeth, she was only 5 feet 1,
    The Army claims its suicide, that’s all, over and done.

    How many before shooting themselves bust their own lip,
    Severe enough to the point it needs more than one stitch,
    Surprisingly they didn’t say she tried to saw herself in half,
    Which lie would be easier to swallow? You do the math.

    So, how did that chemical burn get on her private parts?
    Oh yeah, maybe a tattoo, some kind of new wave art,
    Why would someone waste time getting rid of DNA?
    Just maybe without detection they’re free to get away.

    Being right handed, she shot herself in the left side of the head,
    Moved her body from 1 place to another “after” she was dead,
    From the size of the exit wound when the trigger was released,
    There was no breath left because she was immediately deceased.

    The U.S. Army actually tried lying, hooray for her dad,
    He gave that crap the smell test and oh did it smell bad,
    7/19/05 her dead body found in a contractor’s tent, KBR,
    Broken nose, black eye, shot in the head and body scars.

    Military personnel or civilians aren’t we on the same side?
    Who is the American Government protecting, why that lie?
    Had to be someone with pull to get her alone, you’d think,
    I don’t have to be standing next to skunk to know it stinks.

    Where’s is the ACLU, what happened to the mighty NAACP?
    She could not have been more violated, do you not agree?
    A 19-year-old honor student should be shown more respect,
    But, this is how she’s being treated. Hey! What the heck?

    Can’t call it racial because all women are treated the same,
    Even academies and bases in the states there is this claim,
    We are truly near the end of days soon God will work it out,
    Vengeance will certainly be more than a punch in the mouth.

    The Uniform Code Of Military Justice aka the U.C.M.J.,
    But, where is this promise for LaVena, her assailant got away,
    Judging by the condition of her remains, she put up a fight,
    Now John and Linda Johnson are paving the road to right.

    Funny thing though, seems they have a roadblock in Iraq,
    It’s from the U.S. Army, who supposedly has their back,
    The saying, “with friends like these who needs enemies?”
    Guess the Army thinks first the perpetrator said, “please?”

    Here’s a little something to me that is simply down right scary,
    The hole in her head was from a pistol, which she did not carry,
    Oh yeah, if you think that’s something how does this fact sound?
    The fatal bullet that went through her head was never even found.

    If there ever was this kind of incompetence in World War II,
    Adolph Hitler or his off spring would be telling us what to do,
    Oops, I don’t mean us because there’d be no Blacks or Jews,
    And only if the Furor liked Mexican food maybe a Hispanic or 2.

    Whomever, wherever, whatever, an injustice did occur,
    We can’t make it right for others without justice for her,
    Hey, White House, the most powerful office in the world,
    Do you have the gonads to speak out for this Johnson girl?

    A petition was signed that is over twelve thousand strong,
    The Army closed the case anyway saying nothing’s wrong,
    Nothing like U.S. Intelligence, it’s the reason for the attack,
    If they hadn’t been storing WMD’s we wouldn’t be in Iraq.

    I saw something on the Internet much sadder than sad,
    Her mom distraught, shedding tears, clutching her dad,
    Soldiers carrying LaVena’s body almost made me mad,
    Draped over her lifeless casket was an American flag.

    Apparently the stars and stripes blows in two directions,
    There is one for neglect, another for promised protection,
    As it laid over her body on that particular sun filled day,
    Was it 1 of protection or 1 allowing the perp to get away?

    Beware this incident is not about colors, Black or White,
    Remember it’s a statement in the arena of wrong vs. right,
    I wonder if her recruiter bothered to make LaVena aware,
    The same injustice suffered here is also allowed over there.

    And here’s a timeless saying, which is entering my mind,
    There’s even a movie with the title, “Behind Enemy Lines,”
    Now that the light is shining on a lie that 3 years rang true,
    Who will step in & accomplish what the enemy refused to do?

    For every ranking Army official who signed off on this case,
    Nothing less than a court martial is what each 1 should face,
    Upon their conviction exactly where should they have to go?
    What about life in a cell behind barb wire fences at Gitmo.

    BTW, this isn’t the end of this kind story, not in the least,
    The sad tale of a 21 year old from Texas, PFC Tina Priest,
    After her “suicide” another soldier through his own neglect,
    Guilty! Being in the quarters of a member of the opposite sex.

    Like priest who joined the church to freely molest little boys,
    Sexual predators join the armed forces for their perverted joys,
    The biggest question still remains will something ever be done?
    Wining the internal war protecting our daughters from our sons.

    Update! From March 15,2009 here is some very disturbing news,
    This is from a Pentagon Report and it’s disturbingly so very true,
    There’s an 8% jump from sexual assaults reported last year 2008,
    Rising to 26% in war zones while 89% of the culprits get to skate.

    Yes, because only 11% of reported cases will ever make it to a trial,
    How many are actually convicted? The DOD doesn’t know (smile,)
    So, exactly what are these women doing after shedding their tears?
    Sadly, they are looking at the other side and their own through fear.

    LaVena, 7/19/2009 is the 4-year anniversary of your death,
    And the case is still unsolved? Well, don’t not hold your breath,
    Michael Jackson dies, everybody who is anybody shows,
    Savagely beaten, raped, murdered and still nobody knows?

    Oops! I’m very sorry, I meant to say that “they” are aware,
    In actuality the problem is that “they” obviously don’t care,
    Those who stood up for justice with Jena 6 where are “they?”
    Hey! Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson what do you have to say?

    Or any so-called Black Leader for that matter, what’s going on?
    Television, radio, Internet, news media, your voice is so strong,
    Even the SPCA when it came to Michael Vick, raised holy hell,
    But the true story of LaVena Johnson, no one has the guts to tell?

    © 2009 by Luke Easter