SBS Dateline on LaVena Johnson

by Philip Barron on May 20, 2009 · 88 comments


This week, the Australian network SBS brings its focus to the death of Pfc. LaVena Johnson and the issue of sexual assault in the US military in a Dateline story by journalist Ginny Stein. The feature, “Dark Secrets,” is scheduled to air on May 29, but the video is available now to watch online.

From the Dateline website:

[Sexual assault] is a pervasive problem, with Veterans Affairs statistics showing nearly one in three female soldiers are sexually harassed while serving their country, and for some the consequences are devastating.

Private LaVena Lyn Johnson was just five weeks into her tour of Iraq when she was found dead in a contractor’s tent. The US Army concluded the 19-year-old committed suicide after firing her M16 rifle into her mouth.

However, her father, who worked in the military as a civilian specialist in psychology, refuses to believe his daughter committed suicide.

For the past three years, Dr John Johnson has studied almost every aspect of his daughter’s death. He now believes LaVena was raped and murdered by someone in her camp, and accuses the army of covering up a soldier on soldier slaying.

Dr Johnson says he will keep fighting for justice until the army changes “their attitude about how they treat women in the military”.

Stein is an award-winning journalist who previously spent four years in Southeast Asia reporting for the ABC. Her stories for SBS have taken her from Indonesia to Zimbabwe, from Rwanda to the United States.

51 virginia brock November 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm name is Spc Brock(23)..I am currently deployed to Afghanistan..This is my first time ever hearing of this story, I just wanted to leave a comment and express my sincere condolences to her family or who ever may read this, that is touched by this tragic event. I am so sorry with all my heart this happened to your baby. May God hold her in his arms as she continues to watch over you and the rest of her family. Thank you too all that reads this post….with love from Afghanistan <3 <3 <3

52 Jennifer DeWitt May 16, 2013 at 8:30 am

Hi. I am an Air force wife from NC. Your precious child left this world on my daughters birthday. The day before my own birthday. I have read her story and I am in tears. There is nothing I can say to ease your suffering, I know. Please just know from the bottom of my heart I will make sure your daughters story is not forgotten. I will shout about it every year I will tell everyone I know and raise awarness. I will continue to pray for justice.

53 Pam wilson July 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Dear Family,

I am a veteran of the Army and had a desire to follow up on another unsolved death of a
soldier (female) who went “missing” from a naval ship. In my search I ran across the story of this beautiful hero La Vena Johnson. My heart sank as I read the story and as a mental health professional I cannot image the pain the family is experiencing. I pray earnestly that God will lead you to the truth. Family knows their own and may whomever is responsible for this horrible end to her life be held accountable. God Bless and you will remain in my prayers. Rest Well in GOD”S ARMS…LaVena Johnson…Trust God Johnson Family..Again my sincere, heartfelt sympathy..Justice delayed is NEVER denied…

54 Corinne Nurse July 25, 2013 at 8:26 pm

WOW!!! How sad for a teenager who wanted to serve her country and had to face this cruel end… Dr. Johnson do not stop until there is a justice and a resolution for your daughter LaVena Johnson. My heart goes ou to you and your wife.

55 Corinne Nurse July 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Repost–WOW!!! How sad for a teenager who wanted to serve her country and had to face this cruel end… Dr. Johnson do not stop seeking justice and resolute for your daughter LaVena Johnson. My heart goes out to you and your wife. Sorry!

56 arlisa rivers August 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Not only do I find this as disturbing as one’s eyes can read it…I clearly see how the truth was hidden within the confines of our military. Sadly, the military recruits criminals, they may not always show their true colors but space and opportunity dictates these types of events to happen. I served a s a Drill Instructor for Basic Training and as an Equal Opportunity Advisor. I witness new recruits being assaulted because one of our own Drill’s did just that and I attended his Court-Martial watching him being reduced to a Private from SFC (P) but the irony is that he received no jail time because the person who was assaulted did not come forward immediately. When they did this person who committed the assault, tried to get other Drill Sergeant’s including the EO Representative to cover it up but that person refused to do it….Just imagine though if they had and would that young woman would have been in a mental deli ma for the rest of her life. Yes, there is a network of loyalty among st some military and that network and bond is strong. Rape and murder is not on the category of loyalty in my book it is heinous and deliberate. I sat and listen to a Soldier who was raped by a senior officer who was in her chain of command and because she had allowed herself to drink a little to much and trusted that that person would drive her home safe while TDY. She never expected to be raped and humiliated and carrying the guilt around for years and was just too ashamed to report and it and thought that it would ruin her career for addressing the person who did it, because she was enlisted and he an officer. There are other stories…including rapes while I was deployed and these rapes where conducted by other Foreign National Soldiers serving with our Armed Forces in a Joint status….these events were never broadcast-ed or televised because it would to bring shame to our good name….your child is a advocate and her death will not be in vain….I commend you for standing on the side of right and never….ever stop…..I stand and salute this Soldier, for she is a true warrior and hero for justice and truth…..God Bless you and your family!

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67 Arlene Duncan January 2, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I weep for the parents of this women and pray they can have justice and be at peace. I am a veteran and it makes me sick to hear the treatment of our women in the military. The men involved in her death will meet justice one day…if not man’s justice they have to face their maker…

68 yvette fulton January 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm

I live in Shreveport, La. I was a military wife for 17 years. This is the first time that I have heard about this story. This has had me in tears all day and I have shared a link about this story on Facebook and will continue to do so until justice is done. I’m so, so very sorry for the loss of your beautiful daughter. I wish that there was something else that I could do for you and your family.

69 Anna January 2, 2014 at 10:27 pm

This story makes me sooooo mad!!!! I’ve posted this story on my twitter and Facebook walls so that others may be informed and aware of what is happening to our women in the military.

It’s a shame that a woman can’t serve her country without being subjected to a man’s inability to tame his sexual appetite and urge to commit the unthinkable and then that man can go to bed and sleep at night like a baby!!! That person is not a human being…hell, animals would be too high of a rank for this species!!!

The way this lady died was like something out of a horror movie. I read just today that a second autopsy was performed on her body and low and behold, they found that parts of her vagina, tongue and anus was cut out and removed!!!! Hmmm….maybe to cover up some DNA linking back to the demon that did this?!?! Of course, this wasn’t documented in any of they other autopsy reports previously.

I’m sorry to say, but our government and military is shameful and a disgrace to keep trying to cover up their wrong. This is a great country, but we have greedy and wicked people running it. One may assume that the person that did this was either a high ranking officiant or someone who has a criminal background that solicit help with the cover up because they were in the “good ole boys club.” I am ashamed of what our military and government has become and the injustice that they have done to not only this lady but others as well.

Cases with coverups like this will continue because they continue to get away with it and no one has been brought to justice! When those in the government, pentagon and other military branches get truly serious about dealing with sexual assaults and rape cases, then maybe we will see some behavior and attitude adjustment.

I’m so sorry for this family in the fact that they gphave to ensure this. I signed the petition that they have started on, but is our government and military really going to come clean? Will justice be served? They keep getting away with this. It’s sickening and I’m tired of hearing reports with no resolutions.

70 Jacoup hatcher January 12, 2014 at 10:58 am

It’s a shame that the army cover up this rape and murder act. Shame on the men and women in that unit. Why none of your ain’t telling the truth. Someone know something , I pray for this young women and her family. This type of behavior in our army. I wouldn’t recommend no women or young person to join this corrupted army. What animals did this to this young women.

71 wendilis blue January 15, 2014 at 2:02 am

Im sorry for your loss. I am following your story and signed the petition.
I just wanna tell you, I support your cause and I agree with your findings.
I also signed the petition. Im very sadden by all this.

Never stop for her until you get justice.
God bless you and take care.

72 Jo Ann Lewis January 20, 2014 at 11:19 am

To the parents of this young lady. As the mother of a female veteran of Desert Storm I cannot imagine your grief. Someone would have to tell me something and I don’t mean the suicide lie. May your baby R.I.P. and I thank her for her service and I pray that you will finally get justice for her. Someone knows something.

73 sharon jefferson February 17, 2014 at 8:50 pm

to the johnson family i uplift you in prayer, my heart is really hurting , i cant express my sorrow without thinkning of your precious daughter, please dont stop until you get answers, someone out there knows what happened to ms johnson. i pray that they come forward and that our us army be held accountable, i just cant get your daughter out of my mind, this is the first i have heard of your story. I feel in my heart that the army is covering for someone who is guilty and that person or presons need to be caught because this can happen again to someone elses daughter, god let justice be served. respectfully, sharon d jefferson

74 Currvalicious February 26, 2014 at 6:49 pm

My condolences to the Johnson family on the loss of your daughter. I just stumbled upon her story today through a link on fb. This is such a heinous & deplorable crime, clearly from the photographs & listening to the story it isn’t a suicide. What type of animals & sexual deviants are these people in the military? To set upon this young woman in such a vicious & violent way. I can not even began to imagine the fear & pain she went through. I’m thinking she may’ve rebuffed someone’s advances towards her. I can’t really wrap my mind around this. After reading LaVena’s story. I would never encourage any young kids in my family (particularly the girls) towards the military. Keep fighting for justice Johnson family. And RIP LaVena.

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76 Preston March 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm

My thoughts and prayers continue that justice be served. I know God is still and always be with the Johnson family. I am a retired veteran s pent 33 years serving…i now am preparing for a bicycle riding journey and ride for her loss and will carry this across the paths I travel.

77 army_wife March 13, 2014 at 9:54 pm

I am horrified to hear about your beautiful daughter’s murder. As an Army wife for nearly 30 years, cover ups are nothing new — but to cover up a rape and murder tells me that this lie was perpetuated by someone at the top. Do not let this go. I pray this goes viral, and for what it’s worth, I will now stop encouraging my daughter to join the military. We cannot forget that even Jeffrey Dahmer was in the Army. The filth that is allowed into this honorable corp of heroes is due to the pressure on recruiters, as well as the desperation to meet the quotas – which leads to letting in murderers, rapists, thieves, etc. I’m so shaken by Lavena’s death – I will not forget her. And I will share this far and wide until there is justice.

78 Tosha Bonner June 23, 2014 at 8:27 am

A General, Major, Sergeant or Colonel did that to her…they are the only ones that carry 9 km and I PRAY that justice is served

79 Tosha Bonner June 23, 2014 at 8:34 am


80 Kimberly Pyle July 3, 2014 at 7:14 am

This story is infuriating and heartbreaking. I served 26 years in uniform and had to deal with my share of pigs, and had to develop a thick skin. Knowing that young women have been victimized, and nobody had their back, makes me ill. Femalesin uniform must watch out for each other, at all times. Strong female NCOs have to support, defend and mentor young female troops so they can better defend themselves. It’s sick and sad that it is necessary but it has to be done. That being said, I know a woman who is a civilian counselor for the military. She wanted to show the short video covering Lavena’s story during a Sexual Assault prevention class, and command deemed it “too controversial”. I’ve shared it myself because her story has to be told.

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I am so sorry for your loss. I just heard of this. I am a believer in the word of GOD. Please know that GOD says he will repay!!! Keep your faith. DON”T let your faith grow weary.

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86 Connie January 3, 2015 at 12:14 am

There are know words that can express. I can only extend my sincerest condolences through out the Johnson Family. I looked at the photos of Levena online and tears flowed from my heart. I wondered what kind of a beast or beasts could do this. It’s someone thats soulless. I do know this God will prevail as he looks upon that murderer from heaven. Levena is resting with God and Johnson Family he will bring peace upon you all. It’s never easy, but Faith is all you have to go by. God Bless You All.

87 Connie January 3, 2015 at 12:17 am

There are know words that I can express. I can only extend my sincerest condolences through out the Johnson Family. I looked at the photos of Levena online and tears flowed from my heart. I wondered what kind of a beast or beasts could do this. It’s someone that’s soulless. I do know this God will prevail as he looks upon that murderer from heaven. Levena is resting with God and Johnson Family he will bring peace upon you all. It’s never easy, but Faith is all you have to go by. God Bless!

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