Ten years later, Army Private LaVena Johnson’s family still grieves and questions the Army’s version of her death

Source: Salem News


I followed this story 10 years ago. Apparently, there is no answers to the death of Army Private LaVena Johnson. Her case needs to be reopened in order for her family to know the truth and have some closure…

Ten years after Army Private LaVena Lynn Johnson died in Iraq, her father keeps family photographs of her tucked away in his basement office in his Florissant home, so that his wife doesn’t see them.

John Johnson says she finds the images too painful to look at: A smiling LaVena in gold cap and gown, Class of 2004, Hazelwood Central High. LaVena posing in a powder blue formal gown.

The Army says the 19-year-old soldier killed herself in Iraq — a finding that her family has never believed.

For ten years, Johnson has been on a mission to find his own answers to what happened to his pretty daughter who played the violin and wanted to be a movie producer. The honor student who took after him.

Read on.

I posted on my blog in 2007 that the Johnson family has LaVena’s body exhumed  for an autopsy. Here is the result:

Last night’s KMOV-TV story (including video) on the case of Pfc. LaVena Johnson – an account of her body’s exhumation and autopsy – provided little progress in the attempt to clarify the cause of her death in Iraq in 2005. The autopsy team, which included St. Louis chief medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham and St. Louis County medical examiner Dr. Mary Case, reported inconclusive findings after a three-hour examination. The process will now move to include the weapon – an M-16 rifle – which may have fatally wounded LaVena.
More findings will be posted as they are made available.
The KMOV report was made notable by the inclusion of a comment by Senator Claire McCaskill:
We’ve gotta find the truth about what happened to this young lady. Her family deserves that at a minimum, and we need to know in terms of keeping the armed services accountable.
The evidence points that LaVena’s death was not a suicide but murder. Her is what I posted in June 2007 on my blog:

Her name was LaVena Johnson. She was a Missouri native, private first class soldier and only nineteen years old. On July 19, 2005, Pfc. LaVena Johnson she died near Balad, Iraq.

She was just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Here is her story.

After an investigation into the death of LaVena, the Army declared LaVena’s death a suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Army’s findings were refuted by the Johnson family. The Johnsons believe the evidence shows she was murdered. . In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, LaVena’s father pointed to indications that his daughter had endured a physical struggle before she died. There was evidence of two loose front teeth, a busted lip that had to be reconstructed by the funeral home. This suggested that “someone might have punched her in the mouth.” From a televised report on KMOV news station in St. Louis, Missouri, the media disclosed troubling details not previously made public:

1. Indications of physical abuse that went unremarked by the autopsy.
2. The absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts; indeed, testimony that. LaVena was happy and healthy prior to her death.
3. Indications, via residue tests, that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her.
4. A blood trail outside the tent where Lavena’s body was found.
5. Indications that someone attempted to set LaVena’s body on fire.

And more from Wikipedia.

Besides LaVena, there were other questionable women soldiers that were classified as suicides to mention. From Truthout:


 From 2003 until August 2008, the deaths of 13 Army women and one Navy woman in Iraq and Afghanistan (including Kuwait and Bahrain) have been classified as suicides (numbers confirmed with various media sources):

    2008 – Spc. Keisha Morgan (Taji, Iraq)

    2007 – Spc. Ciara Durkin (Bagram, Afghanistan), Capt. (medical doctor) Roselle Hoffmaster (Kirkik, Iraq)

    2006 – Pfc. Tina Priest (Taji, Iraq), Pfc. Amy Duerkson (Taji, Iraq), Sgt. Denise Lannaman (Kuwait), Sgt. Jeannette Dunn (Taji, Iraq), Maj. Gloria Davis (Baghdad).

    2005 – Pvt. Lavena Johnson (Balad, Iraq), 1st Lt. Debra Banaszak (Kuwait), USN MA1 Jennifer Valdivia (Bahrain)

    2004 – Sgt. Gina Sparks (it is unclear where in Iraq she was injured, but she died in the Fort Polk, La., hospital)

    2003 – Spc. Alyssa Peterson (Tal Afar, Iraq), Sgt. Melissa Valles (Balad, Iraq)

    The demographics of those Army women who allegedly committed suicide are as intriguing as the circumstances of their deaths:

     – Seven of the women, being between the ages of 30 and 47, were older than the norm (Davis, 47; Lannaman, 46; Dunn, 44; Banaszak, 35; Hoffmaster, 32; Sparks, 32; and Durkin, 30). (Most military suicides are in their 20s).

     – Three were officers: a major (Davis), a captain and medical doctor (Hoffmaster) and a first lieutenant (Banaszak).

     – Five were noncommissioned officers (Lannaman, Dunn, Sparks, Valles and Valdivia).

     – Five were women of color (Morgan, Davis, Johnson, Lannaman, Valles).

     – Four were from units based at Fort Hood, Texas, and were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq (Dunn, Priest, Duerkson, and Morgan).

     – Two were found dead at Camp Taji, Iraq, 11 days apart (Priest and Duerkson).

     – Two were found dead at Balad, Iraq (Johnson and Valles).

     – Two had been raped (Priest, 11 days prior to her death; Duerksen, during basic training).

     – One other was probably raped (Johnson, the night she died).

     – Two were lesbians (Lannaman and Durkin).

     – Two of the women were allegedly involved in bribes or shakedowns of contractors (Lannaman and Davis).

     – Two had children (Davis and Banaszak).

     – Three had expressed concerns about improprieties or irregularities in their commands (Durkin’s concerns were financial; Davis had given a seven-page deposition on contracting irregularities in Iraq the day before she died; Peterson was concerned about methods of interrogation of Iraqi prisoners).

     – Several had been in touch with their families within days of their deaths and had not expressed feelings of depression (Morgan, Durkin, Davis, Priest, Johnson).

2 responses to “Ten years later, Army Private LaVena Johnson’s family still grieves and questions the Army’s version of her death

  1. Pingback: Cpl Ciara Durkin, US Army, Died from Non Combat Related Incident in Afghanistan (2007) | MILITARY JUSTICE FOR ALL

  2. Pingback: Fort Carson Army Sgt. Melissa Valles Died of a Non-Combat Gunshot Wound While Deployed in Balad, Iraq (July 9, 2003) | MILITARY JUSTICE FOR ALL

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