Death of LaVena Johnson

LaVena Lynn Johnson (July 27, 1985 – July 19, 2005) was an E3 Private First Class in the United States Army. She was found dead in a tent. Her death was controversially ruled as a suicide but the evidence of rape and battery led her family to believe the United States Department of Defense covered it up.[1]

LaVena Johnson
Born(1985-07-27)July 27, 1985
Florissant, Missouri, U.S.
DiedJuly 19, 2005(2005-07-19) (aged 19)
Balad, Saladin Governorate, Iraq
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service2003–2005
RankPrivate First Class (PFC)
AwardsArmy Good Conduct Medal
Army Commendation Medal


The daughter of John Johnson, a service veteran, and Linda Johnson,[2] 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 eight weeks before her death on July 19, 2005, eight days before her 20th birthday.[3]

Death and controversyEdit

Johnson's death was officially ruled a suicide by the Department of Defense.[4] However, her father became suspicious when he saw her body in the funeral home and decided to investigate. Initially the Army 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.[5]

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 to the mouth that seemed inconsistent with suicide. Several reporters have suspected that the chemical burns were the result of attempts to destroy DNA evidence of a sexual assault. Additionally, bloody footprints were discovered outside of her living quarters.[3][5][6][7]

A spokesman from the House Armed Services Committee said that the committee was looking into Johnson's death, but they were not yet committing to a formal investigation in June 2008. 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[needs update].[8]

Following a February 2007 KMOV news report on Johnson's death, an online petition addressed to the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee was launched, closing with 37,319 supporters. This was followed by the creation of an official LaVena Johnson website dedicated to developments in prompting a new Army investigation of her death.[citation needed] The petition closed on May 24, 2008, with nearly 12,000 signatures; preparations are being made[needs update] for delivery to the two committees. In July 2008, the online black activist group Color of Change launched another online petition[9] 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.[citation needed]

A documentary film about LaVena Johnson's family's struggle for justice was made in 2010, directed by Joan Brooker and titled LaVena Johnson: The Silent Truth.[10]

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 Johnson's case as their case for investigation. The CCIRI's crime scene reconstruction aimed to help shed light on this case that has attracted worldwide attention.[11] The CCIRI investigation did not agree with nor dispute the Army's findings. Sheryl McCollum of the Cold Case Investigative Research Institute calls the case "gut-wrenching." McCollum says the institute normally spends one year on a case, but spent three years on the LaVena Johnson case. In a phone interview with St. Louis Public Radio, McCollum said that she faults the Army for poor communication, but she does not disagree with its conclusion.

"The problem is – number one – the way the notification happened. And the lack of information given to that family fast enough," McCollum said. "There was nothing about this case that we could go back to the Army to say you need to re-look at it," she said. "We didn't have anything new. We didn't have anything that suggested wrongdoing."[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Leonard, Mary Delach (19 July 2015). "10 years later, a soldier's family still grieves and questions the Army's version of her death". St. Louis Public Radio. NPR. Retrieved 23 June 2020.
  2. ^ Stein, Ginny (May 29, 2009). "Dark Secrets". SBS Datellne Program. Special Broadcasting Service. Archived from the original on 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-05-24.
  3. ^ a b Jordan, Sandra (June 17, 2008). "Who killed Private First Class LaVena L. Johnson?". New Pittsburgh Courier. Archived from the original on October 15, 2008. Retrieved July 1, 2008.
  4. ^ King, Tim (February 13, 2014). "LaVena Johnson: Army Still Calls Grisly Rape and Murder 'Suicide'". Retrieved November 23, 2015.
  5. ^ a b "Documents and photos suggest foul play in death of Private Johnson" Archived 2014-05-08 at the Wayback Machine by Sandra Jordan, The St. Louis American (June 4, 2008).
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ The tragic story of LaVena Johnson" Archived 2009-05-28 at the Wayback Machine by Kate Harding, June 27, 2008.
  8. ^ "House panel reviewing death of area soldier" Archived 2008-08-17 at the Wayback Machine by Elizabethe Holland. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 4, 2008.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Jamala Rogers (November 18, 2010). "The truth about LaVena Johnson". The St Louis American. Retrieved December 17, 2012.
  11. ^ Phillip O'Connor (July 8, 2011). "Students to seek clues into death of Florissant soldier". The St Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  12. ^ DELACH LEONARD, MARY (19 July 2015). "10 years later, a soldier's family still grieves and questions the Army's version of her death". St. Louis Public Radio. St. Louis Missouri. Retrieved 29 May 2018.

External linksEdit