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.