July 27, 1985|
|Died||July 19, 2005
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||2003–2005|
|Rank||Private First Class|
|Awards||Good Conduct Medal; Army Commendation Medal |
LaVena Johnson (July 27, 1985 – July 19, 2005) was a Private First Class in the United States Army whose death, officially ruled a suicide, has attracted international attention amid allegations she was raped and murdered. She was the first female soldier from Missouri to die in Iraq.
The daughter of Dr. John Johnson, a service veteran, and Linda Johnson, Johnson was born and grew up in Florissant, Missouri. The 5'1" African American honor student enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Hazelwood Central High School. She was deployed to Iraq and stationed in Balad. She had been there for 8 weeks before her death on July 19, 2005.
Death and controversy
Johnson's death was officially ruled a suicide by the Department of Defense. However, her father became suspicious when he saw her body in the funeral home and decided to investigate. The Army initially refused to release information, but did so under the Freedom of Information Act after Representative William Lacy Clay, Jr. raised questions about it at the congressional hearings over Pat Tillman's death.
The autopsy report and photographs revealed Johnson had a broken nose, black eye, loose teeth, burns from a corrosive chemical on her genitals, and a gunshot wound that seemed inconsistent with suicide. Several reporters have suspected that the chemical burns were to destroy DNA evidence of a rape.
A spokesman from the House Armed Services Committee said in June 2008 that the committee was looking into Johnson's death, but they were not yet committing to a formal investigation. Christopher Grey, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Criminal Investigative Command for the Army has said that the case remains closed as far as they are concerned.
Following a February 2007 KMOV news report on Johnson's death,[dead link] an online petition addressed to the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee was launched. This was followed by the creation of an official LaVena Johnson website dedicated to developments in prompting a new Army investigation of her death. The petition closed on May 24, 2008 with nearly 12,000 signatures; preparations are being made for delivery to the two committees. In July 2008, the online Black activist group Color of Change launched an online petition calling on Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee, to conduct a hearing into LaVena Johnson's death and the Army's handling of her case and others like it.
A documentary film about LaVena Johnson's family struggle for justice was made in 2010, directed by Joan Brooker and titled LaVena Johnson: The Silent Truth.
On July 19, 2011, the criminal justice students in the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute (CCIRI) run as a student club by three universities, selected LaVena Johnson's case, as their case for investigation. The CCIRI’s crime scene reconstruction will help shed light on this case that has attracted worldwide attention.
- Jordan, Sandra (June 17, 2008). "Who killed Private First Class LaVena L. Johnson?". New Pittsburgh Courier.
- Stein, Ginny (29 May 2009). "Dark Secrets". SBS Datellne Program. SBS. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
- Documents and photos suggest foul play in death of Private Johnson. Sandra Jordan. The St. Louis American. June 4, 2008 10:43
- Barnett, Tracey (June 25, 2008). "Tracey Barnett: Women GIs in fear of the enemy in their army". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved October 14, 2011.
- The tragic story of LaVena Johnson Kate Harding. Salon. June 27, 2008
- House panel reviewing death of area soldier. By Elizabethe Holland. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 4th, 2008.
- Parents question their daughter's mysterious death in Iraq. By Matt Sczesny. KMOV-TV. February 21, 2007.
- ColorOfChange.org petition ColorOfChange.org
- Jamala Rogers (November 18, 2010). "The truth about LaVena Johnson". The St Louis American. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
- Phillip O'Connor (July 08, 2011). "Students to seek clues into death of Florissant soldier". The St Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 4, 2014.