Still No Justice for LaVena Johnson

I’ve been doing a bit of learning about the LaVena Johnson case via What About Our Daughters. I knew that I hadn’t heard much about it in my daily woman-centered news-reading travels. In fact, it has been getting a little bit of blog attention precisely because of how the media has ignored it.

If you have also not heard LaVena Johnson’s name before now, here is her story:

She was LaVena Johnson, private first class, and she died near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The tragedy of her story begins there.

An Army representative initially told LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson, that his daughter died of “died of self-inflicted, noncombat injuries,” but initially added that it was not a suicide. The subsequent Army investigation reversed this finding and declared LaVena’s death a suicide, a finding refuted by the soldier’s family. In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dr. Johnson pointed to indications that his daughter had endured a physical struggle before she died – two loose front teeth, a “busted lip” that had to be reconstructed by the funeral home – suggesting that “someone might have punched her in the mouth.”

A promise by the office of Representative William Lacy Clay to look into the matter produced nothing. The military said that the matter was closed.

Johnson’s story is being revived due to a special report done by TV station KMOV. The new details that have emerged are even more disturbing, and require a trigger warning. The New Zealand Herald reports:

Private LaVena Johnson’s nose was broken, teeth were loose, one eye was concave and there were abrasions over her body. The supposed M-16 hole to the head was far too small for the revolver-sized exit wound, and was on the wrong side of her skull for a right-handed woman to have pulled the trigger. Her genital area showed evidence of acid, perhaps used to destroy DNA evidence. She had white military gloves glued to her burned hands.

In other words, LaVena Johnson was very clearly beaten, murdered with a weapon other than the one identified by the military, and almost certainly raped, all by someone(s) who tried to cover up the evidence by burning her body.  And the military brazenly ruled her death a suicide.


When I asked LaVena’s mother if she felt her daughter’s case was being covered up by the US military, she replied without hesitation: “Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Three years after her daughter’s body had been flown home from Iraq, it was still too painful for Linda Johnson to describe the first moments when she realised her daughter had been raped, shot, burned with acid, then dumped in a contractor’s tent and set on fire.

[. . .]

Tragically, the Johnson family are not alone.

This is no single aberrant case. John Johnson has discovered far more stories that have matched his daughter’s than he ever wanted to know. Ten other families of “suicide” female soldiers have contacted him. The common thread among them – rape.

As we should know by now, rape is incredibly common in the military ranks, and great effort is undertaken to ensure that it is covered up and the government has to take no responsibility. There is also a disturbing trend of women in the military being murdered by fellow soldiers and/or intimate partners.

The difference is whether or not we hear about those muders.  Why was the “pregnant marine” case all over the news, but not LaVena Johnson’s?  Why the hell hasn’t Nancy Grace put efforts behind publicizing her story, like she does with so many other female victims of violence?  Well, I’ll hazard a guess: while Johnson was certainly very attractive and therefore seemingly fits the bill for Nancy Grace’s show, unlike the women that Grace does commit resources towards, she wasn’t blond, or more importantly, white.  That will, apparently, do you in every time.

The offical LaVena Johnson website has information on action you can take, as does WAOD.  Please do what you can to help bring attention to LaVena’s case.

0 thoughts on “Still No Justice for LaVena Johnson

  1. Nekone

    My best friend will be deployed to Iraq in September. I want her to come home safely. She’s around the age Private Johnson was. I was slightly relieved to hear that she would not be in direct combat, but it seems the danger comes not only from the enemy. I fear for her and I wish there was something I could do.

  2. Kim Brummell


    Is there a growing trend of women in the military being raped and murdered? Are there cover-ups to keep the public out of touch with reality? I’m a veteran of the U.S. Army and member of the N.C. American Civil Liberties Union. I’m very concerned as a U.S. citizen and disturbed of the possible findings involving the death of Army PFC Lavena Johnson. She died in Balad, Iraq on July 19, 2005 at the age of nineteen. There appears to be an issue of the findings in this case which includes but not limited to: a broken nose, multiple bruises, part of her body burned and a bullet in her head. There also appears to be revelations that someone set her tent on fire where she lived and acid on her genital area. This can help get rid of DNA. I mean this is awful! The U.S. Army has the nerve to rule this a suicide? Who would think that possible findings is a suicide and not murder: including rape, felony assault and arson?

    As a former soldier and N.A.T.O recipient of the war in Bosnia, I’m highly dissappointed that this case hasn’t been re-opened after three years. Somebody knows more about this than meets the eye that fatal day or night in Balad, Iraq. The Arm Services Committee should be dying to learn more, including any similar cases. This is horrifying for any parent who has a daughter in the military or Iraq. The fact that PFC Lavena Johnson is a female in a male dominated profession doesn’t rank her life to be useless. This is a person who served this country and fought for all Americans freedom! Lavena Johnson’s death is most definately suspicious in nature. Who wants to join the military and face a huge possibility of being raped and murdered? The Army needs to resolve this issue and set the record straight. Suicide isn’t looking to be the real reason for this horrific ordeal, after viewing blogs, media footage and videos of this case. If this isn’t so, why is the government allowing their image to be put on front street? Why are they not addressing the issue backing up the claims of suicide? Why didn’t the government provide an explanation when Channel 4 News asked for more details about the contradictory findings in this case? PFC Lavena Johnson was a resident of the St. Louis, Missouri area where KMOV News Channel Four aired this story.

    The death of PFC Lavena Johnson could one day start receiving national attention. Currently the family, media and all those who are concerned are waiting on the federal government to hand over more key evidence in the death and re-open this case. After three years, it’s a good chance some evidence has been destroyed, missing or tainted. This would cause for an inconclusive autopsy at this time. Hold on to your seats. That doesn’t mean that justice can be served.

    How will cases like this affect women signing up for the service and staying in the military? How will it affect the respect citizens have for our soldiers? How could we trust the military to help secure this nation when we may have cold-blooded murderers in a uniform wearing a U.S. flag? I got nothing but love for the military. The service taught me a lot. On the contrary, an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. Where can you run and hide when your allies become your enemies?

    Taken from my blog at:

  3. Villager

    Thank you for sharing LaVena Johnson’s story with your blog readers. We need to get her case re-opened so that the ones who caused her death can be brought to justice…

    peace, Villager

  4. Jen

    Stories like this are horrifying. Something inside me breaks every time I read something like this. As a fellow feminist blogger, I know how the stories just pile up. Is it safe to be a woman anywhere? This goes further than appeals to rights and equality, stories like this show that women still haven’t won the right to not be killed and raped for sport like no more than game. Our government and the military, who profess to protect our rights and freedom, are so much more likely to hurt us than any foreigner. The culture of rape and masculinity is so out of control that I can turn on the news and watch report after report of men beating, killing, and raping women and nobody seems to take any notice of the fact that the obvious trend is that there are a very large portion of the male population who think it is their right, as men, to kill and rape us because we are not men. As for the rest of the male population (and most of the female too), I genuinely think that they would all have us shut up rather than lift a finger to stop this madness. As time goes on, I feel more and more like our laws are nothing more than a smokescreen or an instrument of oppression. Badly enforced, they still are evidence of how post-feminist our society supposedly is. Enforced to discredit us and protect those who would harm us, they masquerade as “innocent until proven guilty” and empty promises.

    I’m sorry for venting all over your blog, but I feel so hopeless faced with stories like this. All the letters I write to Congressmen and Senators don’t decrease the shear numbers of victims whose stories I stumble upon daily. I have all of this passionate and empathy and anger, and all I can do with it is fire off another post or write another unanswered letter.

  5. Patrick John

    This week’s news makes me believe that my gender needs to be relegated to the dust bin of history. White, hetero male society just can’t seem to shape up. The worst part is, as evidenced by Mr. I’m an ally that sexually assaults, is that no matter how much I truly want to be different I probably am not.

    Cara, not long ago you mentioned a ‘well deserved distrust of men’. My initial reaction was that that was unfair. I was right, but in the wrong sense. We are not to be trusted at all.

    I am at a loss for anything else. I feel sick.

  6. Cara Post author

    Patrick — to clarify, I did not mention a “well deserved distrust of men.” I said that many women, including myself, due to previous experience with violence and violation have an understandable distrust of men. I also went on to say that this is something I am not proud of, though also not ashamed of, and would in fact like to change. Of all people in this world of any gender, my husband has least deserved my mistrust, and on occasion I still find this distrust affecting my actions towards him. So certainly in this case, even if in no other, the distrust is not “deserved” but it is absolutely “understandable.”

  7. Nellie

    The multiple stories of combat veteran suicide cause me to distrust whether ANY soldier’s “suicide” was actually self-inflicted. This story should be fully investigated and those responsible for her horrific death should be prosecuted!

  8. Indus

    I reside in Texas and this is honestly the first I have ever heard of this horrific story. My heart goes out to the family of this beautiful young lady.

  9. Pingback: LaVena Johnson’s Story Gets Noticed : The Curvature

  10. Cerese

    Truly the tragic death of LaVena has impacted everyone who has read, heard or lived it.

    Please contact your Congress persons and Senators and local politicians. We need to get this case re-opened. This has happened to LaVena and many other female soldiers. I’ve read of a few but I knew LaVena and am a family friend.

    We must be change agents and do our part. Call, write or email your representatives. This is happening where you are, you just are not aware. Pray.

    If you have been touched by the LaVena Johnson story, do something.

  11. Pingback: Feministing, BuzzFlash on LaVena | Waveflux

  12. Pingback: An Action Item « random babble…

  13. Tiarnan

    Where is the concept of military honour? How is it that this soldier’s commanding officer, and those above that person in the chain of command co-operated in this cover-up? It is sickening and appalling.

    What about Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, all of the other powerful women in the US media? Do they feel any solidarity with this woman?

    The way she was treated was bestial — time to pull down the temple.

  14. Luke Easter

    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.

    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, HBR,
    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 Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the infamous 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 a killer 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.

    Poems By Luke Easter

  15. Erin

    When I first heard about this story I was so disgusted that I wanted to do something to generate more attention to it. I remembered my Amnesty International days and quickly drafted a letter to government officials to alert them to the fact that the public is aware of what is happening and will not stand idle while they pass the blame. I would encourage anyone who has heard this story to write a letter to the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee as well as their local representatives. If we flood their mail with inquiries then by sheer number we can influence them to continue the investigation into her death.


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