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Dec-18-2008 16:33printcommentsVideo

Army Should Reopen Investigation Into Death of Pfc Lavena Johnson (VIDEO)

This young woman's father is a doctor who worked for the Army for 25 years. If they thought this family would back off, they were mistaken.

Pfc Lavena Johnson
Pfc Lavena Johnson's obvious Murder was described as a suicide by Army officials, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Courtesy,,,,

(SALEM, Ore.) - The U.S. Army has a checkered past when it comes to honesty, and one of the most tragic recent examples is the 2005 death of Private first class LaVena Johnson; an African American honor roll student who set out to serve her country in Iraq, and was sent home to her family in a coffin along with a story about suicide, which her family says did not happen.

The amount of evidence in this case indicating that Miss Johnson met her end through foul play is staggering, astonishing... What has happened to the honor of our armed services?

What kind of people are running things? This story clearly begs those questions.

Balad, also known as Camp Anaconda, is a large American air base about 45 miles north of Baghdad.

I spent a few weeks there last summer while covering the war in Iraq. It is a large base where an unfamiliar person can easily become lost.

Pfc LaVena Johnson was found dead in a contractor's tent at Balad in July 2005. Two hours before her death she put on a reflective belt, that's a requirement for walking around Balad at night. She visited a military PX and made a purchase. When her body was discovered, her recently used bank debit card was missing.

She had a fat lip, her teeth had been knocked inward, lye had been poured on her genital area, she had scratches, bruises, a broken nose, two black eyes, and her body had been set afire.

The right handed soldier had a bullet wound on the left side of her head. Her family says their daughter was content and happy. Her commanding officer backed that statement up. Her childhood friends in St. Louis all say there is no possibility that she would have taken her own life.

But the Army still ruled her death a suicide.

The Army, a federal agency that has major problems over sexual assault within its ranks, apparently didn't believe any of the injuries LaVena Johnson had suffered prior to her death were caused by a second person or persons.

A simple fact when it comes to suicide, in addition to all of the evidence, is that statistically, black women are among the least likely groups to commit this act in the first place.

The picture began to change when LaVena's father used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain color images of his daughter's battered body and her autopsy. This revealed the unreported injuries and the fight was on.

"We found out they had held back a color CD containing close-up photos of the body and other material relating to Lavena's autopsy. When I requested in writing the disc be released to me, they flat out refused."

Dr. Johnson said that made him mad, and he became even more suspicious of a cover-up.

"So I filed a F.O.I.A. (Freedom of Information Act) request, and finally got it released. What I saw made me sick and was so horrible I kept some of it from my wife at first, she has already suffered so to know how our daughter died."

"She was murdered," Dr. Johnson said. He says he has been treated shabbily by the Army from the moment he learned of his daughter's death.

Her father says LaVena, "had a bite mark on her stomach on her right side, it looked like she was fighting for her life and they wouldn't let her go."

Her dream had been to be a movie director.

History of Family Military Service

Private Johnson's family is steeped in proud military tradition. Her father, Dr. John Johnson, is an Army veteran who also worked for the Department of the Army for 25 years. LaVena Johnson's two uncles served in Vietnam. And her grandfather served in World War II.

Perhaps the government didn't do its homework before trying to cover this death up.

Maybe they didn't realize that this young woman's father is a doctor who worked for the Department of the Army for 25 years. Maybe the government thought this family would back off. They couldn't have been more mistaken.

Many compare the death of LaVena Johnson to the tragic loss of NFL sports star Pat Tillman. His death by friendly fire has been accompanied by a whole series of lies from the American government.

I've been to Bagram, Afghanistan which is where Pat Tillman was killed. People there haven't forgotten him. I have also had contact with his family during their journey for the pursuit of justice. Without the families of these young soldiers, there would be no hope of justice.

It makes me wonder about the fate of young soldiers and Marines who come from poor families. The DoD frequently sends out news releases about deaths of servicemen and women that are "non-combat related". It seems possible that a lot more of this may be going on than we will ever know.

LaVena's father has cited more problems with the Army's findings. He cites the absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts, test results indicating that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her, and a blood trail outside the tent where Lavena's body was found.

Even by itself, the fact that someone attempted to set LaVena's body on fire should have alerted the attention of Army investigators.

Alternet reported in April 2007, that Representative William Lacy Clay of Missouri's First District spoke about LaVena's death, the unsatisfactory investigation by Army officials, the the Army's refusal by the Army to revisit the case. (see: Rep. Clay speaks about Pfc. LaVena Johnson at Tillman/Lynch hearing)

Congressional representatives and senators reading this article know what they should do. If the people with the power want to sleep well at night, they will force the Army and the Department of Defense to re-open the investigation into LaVena Johnson's death and hold the responsible party or parties responsible.

Our citizen's military service is of paramount importance and accountability will do the federal government far more good than harm.


Here are two reports by Matt Sczesny of KMOV in St Louis, Missouri, LaVena Johnson's hometown:

This is an audio clip, Coz Carson Interviews the Family of PFC LaVena Johnson:

Feb 18, 2014: Democracy Now interview with the parents of PFC LaVena Johnson, Dr. John H. Johnson and Linda Johnson:

LaVena Johnson We Got Your Back!!! By Coz Carson Tribute to LaVena Johnson:


Comments Leave a comment on this story.

All comments and messages are approved by people and self promotional links or unacceptable comments are denied.

Kelly January 8, 2018 6:11 pm (Pacific time)

This is clearly a brutal murder and sadistic rape of this young woman. The Army is full of shit. How can she kill herself with all the injuries she had? This is absolutely a miscarriage of Army protocol and everything else. I am outraged by this. THIS IS MURDER!

John UK September 20, 2016 1:35 am (Pacific time)

This poor family been through so much pain and their beautiful daughter LaVena killed by a monster..The cover up is clear and it comes from the very top make no mistake.These people at the top are a law to themselves.The system is wrong and corrupt.Respect to the family.

Ms. Richardson December 16, 2011 1:54 am (Pacific time)

It's a shame that the United States Army would cover this up as a suicide the evidence speaks for it's self. The one leading evidence is the weapon that was used. The exit wound from the head was too small for it to have been a M16 weapon, so therefore it had to have been a 9 mm weapon and the only personel that carries a 9 mm weapon in the army are officers. The Army is known for covering up bad things that happen when it involves a higher ranking personel. Mr. Johnson keep doing what you are doing. Someone will talk very soon.

Henry Ruark July 18, 2009 3:43 pm (Pacific time)

To all: Again,checking comments as best way to assess ongoing "public opinion" for what it really is. Fact remains, as in any news story re a death, race is one of the characteristics still demanded for full truthful report. See mine earlier. Here Tim did precisely, accurately and comprehensively just what the story demands to be not only truthful, but in this situation also accurate and most meaningful. There is no common sense way to avoid that essential demand and, for me, many of the comments here mirror either intentional or unconscious denial of the brute facts of racism as it still exists in America, well more than 200 years after our Constitution. It was so-treated then simply because slavery was an economic fact of life, recognized in our original pattern for Senators, and is now well recognized by large consensus of historians as not only a smear on America even after the Civil War but continuing today as an unavoidable factual situation. Thank you for honest journalism AGAIN, Editor Tim !

Lucas Easter (excerpt from lyrics) July 18, 2009 12:44 pm (Pacific time)

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?

From "LaVena Johnson (In Memorial) Where Is The Justice?"

Tim King:  I am very sorry about her and I not only wrote this story, but I have been interviewed in front of a good sized live radio audience.  These things matter little in the end, but some people truly care, that is my message.  

JOE71 July 8, 2009 3:12 pm (Pacific time)

This is absolutely incredible. I happened to hear this story while listening to a radio program and I decided to look it up and what I have found is unsettling. This story needs to be told and retold until justice is served. This war, this army, this environment that allows such things to take place to us needs to be brought under an extremely bright light and humanity needs to given its due in the deaths of these people who give their lives to protect our nation. This is terrible. We need this story to go out and demand more accountability from the people responsible.

Henry Ruark December 27, 2008 11:20 am (Pacific time)

To all: Every so often check comments on stories to keep in touch with "public opinion" shown here. For me, as experienced editor, working with diversity of races, in education and media, for more thna 60 years, this story rings precisely true and solid on full-scale of journalism principles. But most comments it drew show absolutely obvious racism in wht is cited, how and from whence, and the erroneous conclusions drawn from the distorted data given. Racism is a myth, created long long ago for economic reasons, unsupported by scientific research on both physical and mental characteristics, and unsupportable for any but the few suffering from their own version(s) of unsuppressable bias and insupportable contempt, which is in itself a version of mental aberration. SO for those to whom this may hit home, take the simple mirror-test. If you do not know what that is, and see no point to doing so, that in itself proves my point here. Murder is murder; to supply false justification for it, and for its coverup, is to become complicit as deeply as if weapon had been used, too.

Jackson December 21, 2008 11:03 am (Pacific time)

On this link: look at the homicide rates per 100,000. This is a shocking reality for those who are not familiar with the murder rate differences between the races. Also please be aware the FBI lists hispanics as white in these tables. They are updating, otherwise one needs to get the data from the nation's city, county and state law enforcement agencies to get the hispanic criminal rates. As per U.S. Justice Department here is their link for black on white rapes: Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005. (Go to the linked document, and under "Victims and Offenders" download the pdf file for 2005.) Go to Table 42, entitled "Personal crimes of violence, 2005." In the United States in 2005, 37,460 white females were sexually assaulted or raped by a black man, while between zero and ten black females were sexually assaulted or raped by a white man. What this means is that "every day" in the United States, over one hundred white women are raped or sexually assaulted by a black man. Many subsequently are infected by HIV/AIDS. Please keep in mind the racial ratio to more fully understand the disproportionate crime rate. Recall the intense publicity the Duke athletes got for a false rape allegation. Imagine if the press actually reported government stats?

jmp1977 December 20, 2008 11:06 am (Pacific time)

sorry, i have to answer this. Vic i know b/c i can hear and just about every place in this city you are surrounded by blacks who love there cell phones. I've even heard them complain about bills while texting on $300 bberries. Get real. These people are playing you. If any city in Oregon had near the same diversity as we do you may have a different opinion as do most places were whites are minorities to blacks. It's easy to not have rascist thoughts when you are not a minority. I didn't when I lived in Oregon.

jmp1977 December 20, 2008 10:39 am (Pacific time)

This is my last post on this issue. No surprise that blacks haven't contacted you since there are hardly any in Oregon. I've lived there before. Correct, whites don't seem to miss a beat on these issues. There is always a liberal white lawyer looking for a racial case. Ex., the school where the white lady made an issue of kids dressing like Native Americans, but the Native parent said she could care less. I would like for you to live in a city that is majority black then tell me that blacks have it bad. They do, as far as blacks killing blacks like crazy. Bill Cosby and Farrakhan will tell you that. You will find blacks fleeing to the burbs just like whites. No one likes dodging bullets. As I write this post the local news is reporting on an 11 year old black girl killed by a stray bullet last night, also found another dead gun shot black person on the opposite side of town. Just another day in a gangsta's paradise. I drive through ghettos everyday and can tell you they are full of crappy houses inhabited by people driving expensive vehicles and many who spend their money on things that are far from being necessary. While in college I worked a summer delivering pizza in a town that was 25% black. At least 70% of our business went to the blackest (poorest) parts of the city, not middle class neighborhoods. If they were poor they would be eating peanut butter sandwiches and growing their own vegetables, not eating tons of pizza that may give them diabetes then they can have the gov. pay their doctors bills. You should read "Uncle Sam's Plantation" by a black woman. Maybe it will open your eyes. The more welfare you give, the poorer the people get. I witness this everyday. Build new projects and 3 years later they turn to complete crap. Our city has been run by the same black mayor for 17 years, W.W. Herenton, and it keeps getting worse. Of couse nationally whites commit more crimes, blacks only make up 13% of the US population. It is the rate that they commit these crimes that is the factor. A white guy comitting fraud does't threaten mine or your safety. You say "people of color"(I don't like that phrase) commit crimes on a different level, yeah, a violent crime level. The cities with the highest crime rates, violent and non., but especially violent, are the blackest cities. They also have the lowest employment rates. Not true for cities with majority Hispanic populations. You don't have to scratch hard to find the data. As far as white males being top contenders in race crime you are way off. Except for the horrible old days of slavery and segregation, Blacks kill whites everyday in this country and it is never called a hate crime because they are minorities. It wasn't called a hate crime when 2 blacks dumped my cousin's innocent 21 year old body in Lake Pontchartrain over wanting his car rims, or when my ex gf. was carjacked and kidnapped by a black guy and countless others across the US. I had to stop riding my bike at night b/c blacks were driving around downtown throwing bottles and saying they want to "kill all whites", and they "hate white people" along with a few other incidents of racial black on white crime.. You can check the police reports from 2 months ago. Also, Hispanics are constantly targeted by blacks b/c they often don't use banks. If a white person does black it is quickly concidered to be a hate crime. Why would you not care if there is more black against white crime than than vise verse? Our % of population is so much larger than theirs and yet they comitt more violent crime. This is clearly a problem. If the black community can admitt this then why can't you? Now, I will take up no more of your space. God rest your soul LaVena. It is obvious that you were the victim of murder.

Fed Up with Government Cover Up December 20, 2008 10:36 am (Pacific time)

Come on people. Drop the race angle. The story reflects absurd treatment by our government. I don't think race was the underlying reason. It was a cover-up. The same would have happened even if she were white. Mr. King's motivation to publish the story is HIS business...

Jackson December 20, 2008 10:12 am (Pacific time)

If a crime has happened in this case, then I imagine in time an investigation will get legs and congress will get involved. If the evidence is as reported I am shocked that this has not received more publicity. Where are these parent's congressmen (Reps and senators)? From a statistical point of view, if this was a rape/murder, then the perp would be black. It is true that blacks commit far more violent crimes than whites. One must try to wrap around the aspect of racial ratio's, that is blacks are out numbered by whites at approx. 6 to one, but still they commit more crimes than caucasians. That's an overwhelming reality. This is verified data as per the government.... So trying to find external blame (the white man!) for this behavior really is not accurate, the evidence shows other factors. There is no evidence out there that can challenge my above statements, none.

EDITOR: This comment was cut short due to the unverifiable data stated and blatant bigotry. Jackson, please write directly to if you would like to send substantive factual info.

Vic December 20, 2008 10:08 am (Pacific time)

I think Tim has a good point. Statistically, blacks have fewer options regarding the legal system and tend to serve longer sentences than whites for similar crimes. Of course that would not apply to those that jmp1977 refers to, with their "fancy clothes" and "cell phones loaded up with paid for ringtones". How do you know what ringtones are on "their" cell phones? Your comment seems to me to reveal a semi-laten racism. Sure, there are wealthy blacks, but the ones who join the Army are usually lower income...same with us crackers. If she were a blonde white General's daughter, you can bet there would be more on the news about this. I read the news rabidly from many different sources and only heard about this on Salem-News.

george December 19, 2008 4:15 pm (Pacific time)

I think it is a tragedy on what happen to this beautiful woman.She deserve justice and it is ashame that the United States Army is turning a blind eye to this obvious crime.

jmp1977 December 19, 2008 4:02 pm (Pacific time)

Tim, whether or not you meant to suggest tension is irrelevant. The fact you mentioned her race insinuates that it was racial. The obsessive PC people of Oregon should know that. I'm not sure about black on white crime in the military, however, Jackson is completely right about a civil environment. The crimes commited by blacks against whites far outnumbers the opposite. Something tells me you wouldn't believe that. Furthermore , I don't see why it would be different in the military, especially when the military has resorted to hiring gang members. Oh yeah, I've heard people in Africa don't like the title "African American". I don't call myself a Dutch/Irish/German American

(FACT: the rate of white-on-white violent crime is about four times the rate of black-on-white crime.)

Tim King:  Why is this important?  Why are people using this article as a platform to complain about whether or not I cited that this woman was African-American?  I have not had a single black person criticize me for this, but white people don't seem to miss a beat. 

If at this point you fail to see the plight of the black race, and if you think things are just hunky dory for people of color, then there is no reaching you.  Here's some knowledge; more white people commit crime than black people.  There are far more white people in this country than black.  White males are the top contenders in race-related crime, white collar crime, extortion, child pornography and a whole host of other categories.  People of color commit crimes on a different level and there are many problems, but I could give a rip if there is more black on white crime than vice verse, why wouldn't there be?. 

Jackson December 19, 2008 10:59 am (Pacific time)

Regarding the race of this individual, it is irrelevant. Using 1947 as a baseline year was 61 years ago, or approximately 3 generations. Equality has existed in the military for a long time now, whereas in civilian life it is still sorely lacking. Maybe when we end quotas such as affirmative action programs, we will see more parity replace the unfairness and tension these programs bring about. In addition you see far more black on white crime in the military, just like you do in civilian life. When you say this murder was based on racial animosity (even hint at it), or assault, then one should realize the difference between the military and civilian environment.

Tim King: 1947 is recent history.  That mere 61 years since we officially practices racism on a federal level back my point entirely.  I don't know where you get your information, but I have seen and heard little in the way of black on white crime in the military.  Whites still vastly outnumber people of color in the military.  I did not suggest at any time that this young woman lost her life over racial tension; I have not heard that.  

jmp1977 December 19, 2008 7:54 am (Pacific time)

No offence taken, but 1947 was over 60 years ago. Give it up dude. Do you think it would be necessary to point out her race in 2050? Exactly, you think the Army reasons. I live in a city that is 61% black and i can tell you that judging by the fancy SUVs that most blacks here drive(most with Obama stickers), the fancy cell phones full of paid for ring tones, and the expensive clothes they feel they have to wear it doesn't seem to me that minorities would be less capable of seeking justice. You may be ignorant on this issue b/c Oregon is one of the least black states. Her hometown of St. Louis is 51% black. She is not a minority there and I know for a fact that black majority cities are full of black law firms that are more than happy to help minority families. By the way, from what I understand blacks were not technically allowed in the state of Oregon untill around the same time they were allowed to stand side-by-side with whites in uniform.

Vic December 19, 2008 7:38 am (Pacific time)

Wow...incredible story! I hope there is some kind of justice for her and her family, but I wouldnt bet on it. This is why mercenaries are so dangerous and should be shunned from all aspects of our society. Someone who kills for a living for the highest bidder is way less than human. Their choice of "work" glaringly proves they have no humanity and can not be trusted for one second. Do we know which "contractor" (mercenary) tent she was found in? I wonder how many Iraqi women and girls have been brutalized and murdered by these scum? We will never know, but I bet it is in the hundreds, if not thousands.

jmp1977 December 18, 2008 8:32 pm (Pacific time)

I have nothing but sympathy for this woman and her family and I hope the guilty are found. However, I do not understand what the color of her skin has to do with anything. It is obvious that she is black. Why does the writer feel he has to point this out. If she was white would it say she was caucasian? I don't think so.

Tim King: No offense, but that strikes me as a very naive question.  Until 1947, black people weren't even allowed to stand side-by-side with white people in uniform.  I think the Army reasons that minority families are less capable of seeking justice for their loved ones.  I think it is noteworthy.  

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