19-year-old Private First Class LaVena Johnson was stationed in Balad, Iraq in 2005 and on July 19, 2005, she lost her life to an alleged suicide. After her parents, Missouri Dr. John Johnson and Mrs. Linda Johnson did some research, they had their daughter’s body exhumed and taken through another autopsy and they realized that LeVena did not, and more importantly, could not shoot herself in the mouth with an M-16 automatic rifle. Dr. Johnson maintains that his daughter was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered. And further, that her body sustained additional trauma to conceal the attack she suffered. Dr. Johnson was also mystified about how the exit wound of an M-16 shot could be as small as LaVena’s was. Something was fishy here.
The hole in LaVena’s head appeared to be more the size of a pistol shot rather than an M-16 round. Dr. Johnson questioned why the exit hole was on the left side of her head, when she was right handed. Things that make you go…hmm. Then there was also the fact that military uniform white gloves were glued onto LaVena’s hands, hiding third degree burns. This is the evidence that solidified Dr. Johnson’s suspicion that the Army’s investigation into the death of his daughter was flawed. Furthermore, Dr. Johnson received of photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter’s body as it lay where it had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken just prior to the autopsy.
These photographs reveal that LaVena, a small woman, barely 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been brutally beaten. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her torso. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned and there was clear evidence of sexual assault. Does this sound like suicide to you?
The Army’s official ruling stated that Johnson died from a self-inflicted, non-combat “intraoral” gunshot wound. According to investigators, Johnson was depressed at the time of her death and had made overtures to fellow soldiers that she was contemplating killing herself. Ninety-four United States military women have died in Iraq or during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Of these deaths, twenty or more have occurred under extremely suspicious circumstances; defined by the Army and the Department of Defense as “non-combat related injuries,” with the additional characterization of “suicide.”
LaVena’s tragic story is being reignited after nine years because of the documentary of her life, “The Silent Truth,” reports on alternative media such as Democracy Now and an article that appeared on The MadMan Chronicles.
Lingering questions about the LaVena’s death deserve answers, not just for her parents, but for any and everyone who has a heart big enough to care about a Black woman who was willing to fight for her country and died in vain and in mystery. Many of these stories happen all the time. Three rapes happen every hour in the military and 90 percent of survivors of sexual assault in the military are involuntarily discharged. The implications of LaVena’s death being labeled a suicide speaks to our dishonoring the dignity of her life (as well as others like her) and shows a general lack of concern for women in the armed forces.
Want to help fight for justice for LaVena? Sign this petition: It’s Time to ACT Now! Claim Justice for PFC. LaVena Johnson
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