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Lack of Media Coverage of Pfc. LaVena Johnson's Murder and Army Cover-Up Our Shame

By August 5, 2008

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I hope you'll get very, very angry when you read this. I hope you'll curse me out, along with the mainstream media, for our neglect. And I hope you'll realize why we need citizen journalists and determined bloggers who find these horrific, heartbreaking, significant stories and report on them...and repeat them to others, again and again, even when they feel as though they're screaming to be heard over the echoes bouncing back from the walls of indifference that surround them.

I hope you know who LaVena Johnson is. But I'm finding out that very few people do, as compared to Jamie Leigh Jones. There's a couple of big differences as to why one woman's story is virtually unknown, while the other was covered by Brian Ross and ABC News.

Jamie Leigh Jones is white. She's alive to tell her tale.

LaVena Johnson is black. She's been dead now for over three years. And until recently, very few people were speaking up for her.

One of the first was The Angry Independent, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the blog Mirror on America. Over a year and a half ago, on February 24, 2007, he asked "Who Murdered Army Pvt LaVena Johnson?" An even louder outcry could be heard over at Shakesville, where Philip Barron had written about Private First Class LaVena Johnson two days earlier. Out of respect for Johnson and her family, I'm deliberately choosing to introduce you to the young woman she was, before describing the victim she became. Barron's narrative gives you an idea:

Once upon a time lived a young woman from a St. Louis suburb. She was an honor roll student, she played the violin, she donated blood and volunteered for American Heart Association walks. She elected to put off college for a while and joined the Army once out of school. At Fort Campbell, KY, she was assigned as a weapons supply manager to the 129th Corps Support Battalion.

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.

She wasn't killed by the enemy. She was murdered by a fellow soldier.

Like every other mainstream media source, Broadsheet over at Salon.com only jumped on this recently. Here's their description of the desecration of LaVena Johnson:

She was found with a broken nose, black eye and loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals, presumably to eliminate DNA evidence of rape, a trail of blood leading away from her tent and a bullet hole in her head. Unbelievably, that's not the most horrifying part of the story. Here's what is: Army investigators ruled her death a suicide.
The rest of us ignorant, stupid, unfeeling dummies are only talking about this now because of the sexual assault hearings held by the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs last Thursday. The hearings themselves were laughable because the Department of Defense refused to let the woman in charge of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) testify in Thursday’s hearing on sexual assault in the military.

And shame on me too. LaVena Johnson's story showed up in the Women's Issues forum before I ever covered it here

I am angry. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed. And the least that I can do is support colorofchange.org's demand that Congress investigate the Army's cover-up of her murder, and encourage you do to the same.

This beautiful young woman stepped up to serve her country and was brutally murdered. How far do things have to go in the US military before we demand safety for our female servicewoman and permanent and lasting change in a culture that finds it easier to turn a blind eye and cover up what it doesn't want to deal with?

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August 6, 2008 at 9:38 am
(1) cooper says:

Thank you for posting this. The lavenajohnson.com site has kept this going for a year and a half or longer. I just heard about it the first of July.

I believe together we can incite major media to take notice and from there the the rest of the country will see what a travesty this is, and we can get this case re-opened.

How dare they let this happen.

August 6, 2008 at 1:28 pm
(2) Daylight365 says:

This is hideous. What if this were your child! Outrage is not enough. The army’s deceit has to be brought to the forefront. They are supposedly a model for young people. That image is destroyed on a weekly basis but this is the epitome of disgrace. I feel for that soldier’s pain more than McCain’s prison stint. How proud is he now?
I lost my 6 year old on July 17th 2005 and he was properly buried on the 20th, the day this brave soldier was tortured and murdered. My child’s death was no accident although it was portrayed that way. An autopsy revealed drugs and alcohol as the real cause of his drowning given to him by his father’s girlfriend. Then I was framed for the drowning of my own dear son. This family’s pain is far beyond my imagination. I hope solace will one day be theirs. I’m still working on mine.

November 1, 2008 at 4:47 pm
(3) MCKean says:

Women are raped in the military, and then again in the V.A. system as they get older and need care that might require sedation. Women are sedated and then subjected to multiple pelvic, breast, and rectal exams by several residents and students, are then left with male nurses, techs, others while still sedated. Women are being raped in V.A. hosp. do not know it, and the V.A. is covering it up.

July 14, 2009 at 9:32 pm
(4) Ithaqua says:

Everyone, and I mean everyone who had anything to do with this cover up needs to go to prison.
There is no “Just following orders” for something so horrific.

July 15, 2009 at 7:30 am
(5) Denise Freeman says:

In Britian there was five soldiers killed at their base it was called Deepcut they were all supposed to have killed themselves the cases are still going on. But to me if you train people to kill how do you train them not to kill? and not to kill their own it is well known about soldiers that once trained they do not come back into society were they can not do as they have been taught to do and allowed to do, after wars many killing happen till this is breed out. I find it strange that in Britian the youths are not allowed to carry any weapon or to kill but can join up get six weeks training then sent to kill for their Governments or Queen and country as they like to pass it off here what is the difference? and how do you control that war is in many men they just need the nod to go and join up then when they die its all this hypocrisy of being a hero and sacrificing ones life for what? Killing blacks are still in the USA psyche because of the back ground of slavery and if it is a white man and an upper rank the army will cover it up after all it need its cannon fodder so killing of a female whom many believe should not be in the army anyway until we deal with this then there will be no peace on earth for anyone.

July 15, 2009 at 10:54 am
(6) Shane says:

What do you expect from an “organization” that shows snuff films to their recruits to desensitize them to killing? Our armed forces are nothing more than a buch of disgusting, often times undereducated, murdering, pigs. Their whole existance is for the purpose of murdering and plundering for the empire. A defensive force would have no need to travel abroad. What are they doing in other nations?

July 15, 2009 at 10:21 pm
(7) she's a symptom of a larger issue of GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION BEYOND ALL BELIEF says:

LaVena’s death is very sad, but so many women have been ‘murdered’ by their ‘male’ superiors and alleged colleagues in the military, that one has to ask who in their right mind would intentionally send their daughter off to the U.S. military, either to be pissed away and or squandered in illegal wars that have nothing to do with national security, truly, or doing what is HONORABLE for the nation.

having said that, the entire U.S. government is irrevocably, irreversibly corrupt to the core and unanswerable to anyone. LaVena’s parents found that out by now, I’m sure.

July 16, 2009 at 9:15 am
(8) Eric Vaughan says:

My deepest sympathies & ondolences to the Johnson family. Unfortunately, blacks make up a disproportionate number of war victims and those so in favor of these conflicts, who historically never see service and/or combat, also control the corridors of power, so I’d expect tough sledding all the way on this. Still, that didn’t stop some determined people in Montgomery, Alabama, so the best of luck to you.

August 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm
(9) Mandy says:

I’m only a senior in highschool, about 2 months away from my 18th birthday… not that much younger than LeVena was… What happened to her is horrific, and wrong, and the stuff that nightmares are made of, and then it’s ruled a suicide. That’s what gets me… Why is our army covering up these rape and murder victims, who are they trying to protect? And don’t just give the “Boys will be boys” motto, because rape and murder is no act of a man, it is a monster. Women are to be cherished and protected, no abused like something to be discarded. The men who did this and cover it up are a disgrace to humanity, and should all be dealt with in the most severe method possible. I don’t want my friends, or even my enemies, to have the same heartache as all the nameless women victims of our military, deaths not at the hand of the enemy, but of their own service men. God save us.

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