On April 28, 2012, I attended the NWVAA (National Women’s Veterans Association of America) 1st Annual “Break the Silence” Military Sexual Assault & Suicide Advocates in San Diego, California. The Conference featured Veteran Women bravely telling their stories of sexual assault and abuse suffered by fellow soldiers, superior officers, and other officials of the military. These Women stood strong and sometimes through tears yet steadfast and convicted they “SPOKE”. They told “Their Stories”; “Her-Stories” in their own way. One of those voices that spoke, was that of PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson. I was there to accompany her and to make sure that (HER) voice was heard. This is the story of PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson and how (WE) told of her rape and Military Cover-up.
PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson SPEAKS!
Image credit: John Johnson
In July 2005, 19-year-old Army Pvt. LaVena Lynn Johnson, just 8 days shy of her 20th birthday and only in the Army for 10 months, was found dead on Joint Base Balad (JBB). The largest Military base in Iraq, also known as Anaconda. She was only in Iraq for six weeks before her body was found in a Military contractors KBR (Kellogg, Brown, & Root) Burning Tent. Which incidentally, Military and Active Duty Soldiers were not allowed on the premises.
During the Army’s initial investigation, LaVena’s death was considered a homicide and indicated as such in their paperwork. However, a decision was made shortly afterwards, that declared her death as a Suicide. Military Criminal Investigators attempted to explain that LaVena was depressed and distraught over a break up with her new boyfriend (just of 2 months) The Army stated that, on the night of July 18, 2005 instead of going jogging with her friends 5 ft tall, LaVena decided to go to an unfamiliar, off-limits, contractors tent and Shoot herself (intraoral) with her M-16 Rifle; alone without a “Battle Buddy” which is Military protocol. Even more intriguing, was that according to witness information and the Investigative teams findings, LaVena was murdered the night of the 17th, the same day she joyfully talked to her parents about being home for Christmas and decorating the house. Witness’s stated that they went to her barracks on the 17th and she wasn’t there, they went to pick her up to take her to class on the 18th and she didn’t answer nor appeared in class, the witnesses reported her missing on the morning of July 18th. At 7:30 in the morning on July 19th Army officials were at the LaVena Johnson‘s Parents home in St. Louis, Missouri.
This claim seemed preposterous and was quickly disputed by the family. Questions and suspicions arose, but not until LaVena’s body was viewed at the mortuary did LaVena herself confirm her families deepest fears.
LaVena showed a face, that was not her own. She wore a face that was unrecognizable to her parents. There were bruises in the place of smooth flawless skin. Her nose appeared to be broken and shifted. Her chin was swollen, dropped and different. She pointed out deep slits at the corners of her lips, then she showed that her teeth had somehow been broken and pushed back. LaVena told her parents that she could only see with one eye, because the other one was loose and cracked. She displayed a small patch, that covered what seemed to be a bullet hole at the top left front of her forehead, above her left eye and at her hairline. (It was an undersized hole that seemed inconsistent with that of a M-16 Rifle, plus as she remarked “I’m right handed”) But, what was to be the most troubling for her, was that she couldn’t take her military gloves off to point directly to her wounds. “Daddy, I think there glued on.”
LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson, a US Army Veteran, who holds a PhD in psychology and has 25 years of experience as a US Army civilian employee, put together and Investigation Team of four, professional, well trained Law Enforcement personnel, and one Media and Research Analyst to uncover the truth and help LaVena tell her story.
LaVena calmly whispered the truth in each debriefing. She passed along the courage for them, to ask her of more “Hidden Secrets” They fought through Congress and the Freedom of Information Act until the Official Military documents about LaVena’s death were released. Over the next two and a half years, pieces of evidence were given to the Investigative Team, and with each new bit of information, LaVena appeared. Over time, her voice got clearer and stronger.
When the families Investigative Team received the Initial Military Criminal Investigator’s Crime Scene Sketch, they heard LaVena say that she hadn’t shot herself in her barracks! Actually, her body was found inside a burning tent, under a wooden bench, with an aerosol can near her right leg, and her gun was laying perfectly parallel to her body. She told them to pay close attention to the two pools of blood that the Crime Scene Investigator drew, “Look here, there’s one behind me and one to the right of me”.
In the Army’s documents that the Team collected was a photocopy of a compact disk, curious about the contents on the CD, Dr. Johnson requested it and received it after Congressman Lacy Clay intervened. On that disk were Color Photographs of the Crime Scene, nothing like the Xerox, black and white, blurred copies that he had.
In the Military’s Crime Scene photos; LaVena seemed to shout of how she was inhumanly treated. She argued of how she was dragged from place to place, along the dirt and debris. She was moved from the outside of the tent, to the inside of the tent. She said she was dressed and redressed while Photographers snapped pictures and re-staged their supposed scenario. “Look, right here! Look at this picture and compare it with that one, they even photographed me in two different T-shirts, this one has black lettering, this one doesn’t”. LaVena said that they wanted her to lay flat back, but her neck was broke, and it was impossible for her head to stay straight. So they decided to tilt her head and place her right arm over her face, plus one of them thought it would be a good idea, because it wouldn’t show the damage of my left eye. “Hey! Do you see this, there are two pools of blood, you see it, the second is at the corner of the photograph, almost hidden.”
LaVena; not the slightest embarrassed by the photos of her nude body, plucked at every ounce of lie that was told to her family. “You see this here? These are burns down the right side of my back and into my thigh. That’s how my hands got burned, cause I was trying to put out the fire. See, that’s why they glued on my military gloves at the funeral.” She quieted and then calmly reminded the Investigators that there weren’t any burns on her clothing. My arm is twisted out like that, and my palm is up because my shoulder is dislocated.” When the photographs of the bullet hole and wound were shown, she helped the team to determine that it was in-fact an entry wound, and not an exit wound as the Military claimed. She told the Investigative Team, that she was shot with a 9MM hand gun, execution style. She showed them the teeth marks, and scratches, and she wasn’t afraid to talk about the corrosive liquid that had been poured into her anus and vagina.
LaVena Lynn Johnson Spoke to the Investigative Team, through the X-Rays and Autopsy’s too. She told of numerous cosmetic surgeries. She talked of the removal of part of her tongue, anus, and vagina. She smirked and declared , “They are just trying to remove evidence, they thought I wasn’t gonna say anything, Humph, they messed with the wrong family, I’ll never be quiet and I’ll keep on telling it until they clear my name and the lie that they told.”
LaVena Lynn Johnson Speaks! Loud, Strong, and Clear! If you don’t hear her, it’s not because you can’t, it’s only because you choose not too.
Written and recited by Jessica Williams (Creatively named Mantra Lotus), Ambassador for LaVena Lynn Johnson at the NWVAA (National Women’s Veterans Association of America) 1st Annual “Break the Silence” Military Sexual Assault & Suicide Advocates Conference in San Diego, California.
ACT NOW! Help in Claiming Justice for PFC LaVena Lynn Johnson and other Military women who have died in suspicious, “Non-combat”, “Suicide”, or “Accidental” related incidents…Sign the ACT Now! Petition!