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U.S. Military Keeping Secrets About Female Soldiers’ ‘Suicides’?

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Posted on Aug 26, 2008
military service
AP photo / William B. Plowman

An honor guard folds the flag following funeral services for Massachusetts Army National Guard Spc. Ciara Durkin at St. John the Baptist Church in Quincy, Mass., last Oct. 6.

By Col. Ann Wright

(Page 3)

Johnsons’ Quest Continues in Daughter’s Death

After two years of requesting documents, the family of Lavena Johnson received a set of papers from the Army that included a photocopy of a compact disk. Wondering why the copy was among the documents, Dr. Johnson requested the CD itself. The Army finally complied after a congressman intervened. When Dr. Johnson viewed the CD, he was shocked to see photographs taken by Army investigators of his daughter’s body as it lay where her body had been found, as well as other photographs of her disrobed body taken during the investigation.

The photographs revealed that Lavena, barely five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, perhaps a weapon stock. Her nose was broken and her teeth knocked backward. One elbow was distended. The back of her clothes contained debris, indicating she had been dragged. The photographs of her disrobed body showed bruises, scratch marks and teeth imprints on the upper part of her body. The right side of her back as well as her right hand had been burned, apparently from a flammable liquid poured on her and then lighted.  Photographs of her genital area revealed massive bruising and lacerations. A corrosive liquid had been poured into her genital area, probably to destroy DNA evidence of sexual assault. 

Despite the bruises, scratches, teeth imprints and burns on her body, Lavena was found completely dressed in the burning tent. There was a blood trail from outside the contractor’s tent to inside the tent. She apparently had been dressed after the attack and her attacker had placed her body in the tent before setting it on fire.


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Investigator records reveal that members of her unit said Johnson had told them she was going jogging with friends on the other side of the base. One unit member walked with her to the post exchange, where she bought a soda, and then, in her Army workout clothes, Johnson went on by herself to meet friends and to exercise. The unit member said she was in good spirits, showing no indication of personal emotional problems.

The Army investigators initially concluded that Pvt. Johnson’s death was a homicide and indicated that on their paperwork. However, a decision apparently was made by higher officials that the investigators would stop the homicide inquiry and classify her death a suicide.

Three weeks later, a final autopsy report from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, dated Aug. 13, 2005, said the cause of death was an intraoral gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was a suicide. However, the autopsy report—written after the July 22, 2005, autopsy at Dover Air Force Base and signed on Aug. 9, 2005 by associate medical examiner Lt. Cmdr. Edward Reedy and by chief deputy medical examiner Cmdr. James Caruso—states much more in its opinion section:

“The 19 year old female, Lavena Johnson, died as a result of a gunshot wound of the head that caused injuries to the skull and brain. The entrance wound was inside the mouth and injuries to the lips and oral mucosa were a direct result of the discharge of the weapon. The exit wound was located on the left side of the head. No bullet or bullet fragments were recovered. Toxicology was negative for alcohol and other screened drugs. The investigative information made available indicates that this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. With the information surrounding the circumstances of the death that is presently available the manner of death is determined to be suicide.”

The medical examiners revealed that they were basing their determination of suicide on “investigative information made available indicat[ing] that this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” not from medical evidence. They did not address what caliber of bullet entered her body—in fact, they stated that no bullet or bullet fragment was recovered, and they did not offer comments on what caliber of bullet would have made the entry and exit wounds. 

The Aug. 25, 2005, report from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory in Forest Park, Ga., stated:

The characteristic gunshot residue particle indicated on Exhibit 5 (Gunshot residue kit (Item 9, Doc 775-05), the number is considered insignificant.  Based on these results, the report concludes that the following possibilities exist, but the report makes no conclusion:
  a. The subject did not handle/discharge a firearm.
  b. The subject handled/discharged a firearm but an insignificant number of gunshot residue particles were deposited on the hands.
  c. The subject handled/discharged a firearm that deposited a significant number of gunshot residue particles on the hand; however, due to washing, wiping, or other activity, the particles were reduced to insignificant numbers.

The medical examiners who did the autopsy on Johnson’s body did not mention any burns on her body, but when the family had gloves that had been glued onto her hands cut off by the funeral home employees in Missouri, they found her hands had been burned, and further examination showed her back was burned. A witness statement taken on July 19, 2005, states: “The witness [name redacted] ... found the victim under the bench and verified there were no signs of life ... related he saw the M16 lying across the victim’s body ... he didn’t know what setting the weapon was on ... he related everything was smoking, including parts of the body. He called for an ambulance and secured the scene.”

On April 9, 2008, Johnson’s parents flew from their home in St. Louis for meetings with members of Congress and their staff. They again went to Washington, D.C., in July 2008 and were briefed by Army investigators and the military medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Lavena. The Army briefers maintained that her death was a suicide and were unable to answer Dr. John and Linda Johnson’s long list of questions. The Johnsons are asking for a congressional hearing that would force the Army to further investigate their daughter’s death.

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By MAJ Glenn MacDonald, USAR (Ret), July 11, 2010 at 11:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you TRUTHDIG.COM for publishing the excellent but very disturbing article by retired COL Ann Wright.

We at have exposed many “suicides” in the military as being a convenient cover for murder.

Such is the case of the late PFC Lavena Johnson.
On MCC, we have gone into great detail why she was raped and murdered, yet the Army shamefully continues
to lie and cover-up the real cause of her death.

A well-deserved “salute” to Ann and a request for you, dear reader, to take a look at  We have a SEARCH THIS SITE tab and are “user-friendly.”  And best of all, the site is FREE.


MAJ Glenn MacDonald, USAR (Ret)

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By myrak, August 11, 2009 at 4:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Army LIES.  Pat Tillman, Lavena Johnson, Jessica Lynch,  and having lied the Army moves on to investigate itself. 

Can it get any sicker than it is?  Yes it can and it will. 

Interrogators get BRONZE STAR for participating in torturing detainees to death;  Army Reserves go to prison for posing in photos and immorality. 

The new General in Afghanistan said we aren’t going to do body counts. 

The war of ERROR needs to end now!

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By Youwna Dent, March 2, 2009 at 1:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This news is very disturbing! Women risking their lives to surve in this country and they are being raped and killed by “our american heros.” They are taught the army values, and the warrior ethos but they kill and rape the women who are fighting for our country?

It happens all the time I am a victim of rape by a military man. It happened when I was 18 years old October 2003. My social-worker at the time took me by the armed forces place where I was interested in joining the army because I didn’t want to be homeless and I wanted to have some type of future.

We talked to a white man, he was nice. He said,that he would stop by my apartment to allow me to take the pre- asvab (I didn’t have a car). So, the next day he called to schedule it for the following day, he asked for all of my information. Then, later that night a black man called around 9:30 pm to confirm my information.

I told him the man’s name who was going to be stopping by the next moring. He said, “I understand I am just doing a follow up.” So I get a knock at my door around 10pm. So, I open the door and its the black man on the phone. At the point, I was shocked and terrified. But, he had a wedding band on, and he seemed nice. After all, these men who serve in the military are supposed to be “our american heros.”

To make a long story short, we talked he told me about the miitary, he showed me pictures of him and all the places he had been. I told him my situation, and he showed me his license so I could trust him. He raped me!! I tried to stop him but he was too strong! I screamed I fought but he raped me! I called on God but I still got raped! I told this man, you’re married what about your wife?? He didn’t care he raped me!!!

It is still hard for me to deal with! I called my social-worker after I got out the shower and I cried. I tried to scrub the hell out of myself. The detectives came and they told me that there had been several cases of single women who live alone who are intersted in joining the military that this had happened too.

I went to the hospital (After I got raped I had no intention of saying anything). I was scared, he knew where I lived, and I thought it was my fault. I was so scared. Yes, they did perform a rape kit on me.

I never went back to my apartment, I ended up staing with my social-worker until I was able to snap out of it. She asked me if I wanted tp prosecute him and I said, “no.” At that time, I wasn’t strong enough to do it! I just wanted to get over it, but when I came to Mississippi Valley State University the problem came back!

The man that raped me was in AROTC!!!! I went through HELL!!! I wished I would have prosecuted him, because he showed no type of resentment. If he could do it again he would. He taunted the hell out of me. I was so hurt, how could this happen too me?

How did this black man get my infromation, if the white recruiter said, he was coming to see me the next morning? I was able to confide in my arotc friend and she in the reserve unit. She told me that when she was out doing training a Sgt. who is married tried to rape her on the bus. (They were the only two on the bus). He clame an inch from rapping her.

This is something that happens too often. Many women are faced with these monsterous men in the military. They rape other women and other countries so they are rapping us too. Not all american soilders are rapists, but there is a strong growing epidemic of soilders who are doing it now. For women in the U.S. military, they have to go through so much! Many of us get raped, sexual harrassed, or put in awkward situations such as having to sleep with these men… or else.

Hopefully, this can be stopped! Who are the real enemies? In my opinion, its not Iraq or any of our “enemies.” Its several of our “american heros.” How can we fight for someone elses freedom and we are not free ourselves?

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By Don, December 12, 2008 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I hate to sound callus, but when one joins the military, the first thing they do is tear down your personal inhibitions ...”

That’s the problem. There isn’t much of that going on anymore. I went to drill sergeant school At Fort Jackson where most of these women were trained and I didn’t see much going on that looked like military training.

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By alice casiano, November 10, 2008 at 5:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have to Thank Col. Wright, Ann. for an excellent report on the Issue facing Military women in combat and at home.  I know the stress of Military Life.  They always say , no one told you to join the Military.  Thats true, but we join to serve our country and not to get Rape and cover up the killed.  This happens in Peace time too. Poor women always join the Military to try to better themselfs then what they have in their communities.  Its a way to see the world and get some good training in any field.  We are only good when they need us, but after that is like Oh well we dont need you anymore. I am a Veteran now and I have seen both side of the coin.  I too had friend commit suicide. We are in so much strss over their, some men go crazy if they do not have a female in a week.  I am so blessed that I did not go overseas, I could imagine the situation there.  This was a very good article, well written and so so true. Thank you for all Veterans who been there and done that.

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By Dale, August 30, 2008 at 9:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a great article!  Thanks, Ms. Wright, for looking out for the soldiers and for their families.  It is nice to know that some senior military, even if retired, have not forgotten their obligation to their men and women, to their service, and to their nation.

I am amazed that the Army would rather tolerate murderers among them than to admit that there are problems in the service.  Our military is no longer an independent fighting force under the control of civilian politicians; it is now part of the politic of the nation.  What a shame that is and a sad legacy for those brave men and women who have and still are defending our nation.

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By tburns60, August 29, 2008 at 12:48 am Link to this comment

Shame on anyone here that has made a comment that has nothing; not a single thing to do…with
what Col. Ann Wright was trying to do; to say.
A commendation to YOU Col. Wright.
I salute you, a male nam vet NCO salutes you. A male vet that will now turn his silly ‘puter off. So that he might cry for those you care about. Those who are no longer with us to tell their story.
You are a lady of fortitude that these ‘commenters’ have no clue about. I just wish I could express it better.
Thank you dear lady. Thank you dear soldier. We need you now more than ever. I go now to cry..and pray for them.

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By Big B, August 28, 2008 at 9:43 am Link to this comment

Right wing,

you actually missed my point. It was that they should have known what they were getting into. It’s not like its a big secret that the military has no respect for women or any other living thing for that matter. The only place in the military where women are consitered equals is cannon fodder.
On the subject of war in general, the neocons and neoliberals have had their with our foreign policy since WWII, are we a better and safer nation for it?
We are certainly a more bankrupt nation for it. Perhaps if we stopped meddling in the business of other nations, and in particilarly stopped selling them weapons and technology, so that they might evolve on their own, maybe we could live in peace. But maybe that horse have left the barn. Maybe we have fucked things up too much! However, we have tried the “warrior way"for almost 60 years and the only thing it has accompliced is keeping a major war from our front door. But the little ones have more than made up for it.
No, I am not one of those “america is always wrong” people, but we should be man enough to own up to our transgressions.
We have tried the warrior way for a long time.
It has bankrupted us in more ways than one.

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By RightWing, August 28, 2008 at 2:48 am Link to this comment

Below average ,Big B you are an Idiot,no one twisted their arm to join. This is just another feminist bullshit liberal tactic to make the military look like a bunch of thugs. Compare the military populous with the same civilian populous,you would probably join yourself, men commit suicide to, men also have stress issues. If your a whiner stay home and let the government take care of you…..

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By DocReality, August 27, 2008 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

These were hits as in the case of Pat Tillman. I know people who have done tours over there and the corruption and evil is intense, from heroin running, killing the innocent, rapes you name it.
Best thing that can happen is complete victory for the Taliban.

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By Big B, August 27, 2008 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment

I hate to sound callus, but when one joins the military, the first thing they do is tear down your personal inhibitions, and then teach you to follow orders unflinchingly. Then they hand you a gun and have you shoot at targets shaped like humans. They teach you to not only hate your enemy, but disrespect them as well, for the enemy is a subhuman animal that deserves only death.
Holy shit! that passage was unkind.
The military has been teaching this crap to impressionable below average intelligence young men for a while now. Talk to anyone in the military and they will tell you that there is an overtly sexist overtone in every branch. Women aren’t even good enough to do battle, they are reconciled to the roles of support personnel(just like the bible says, hmmm)The only thing they are good for is child rearing and sexual release.
Honestly, I have listened to this sexist crap from veterans for years. It turns my stomach. But it explains alot. An organization whose sole purpose is to de-humanize an enemy so that killing them is easy, it should be apparent that there can be no such thing as rape. Sex is always consentual in the military, as long as the man says yes.
So then, why would anyone be suprised that any organization with this little regard for women would treat rape as a slight inconvenience?
We torture people without conscience, why is it a shock that rape is an excepted evil?

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Purple Girl's avatar

By Purple Girl, August 27, 2008 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

the pentagon and thier task master Cheney have perfected the art of covering up their murders.
Granted ‘Kill her don’t divorce her’ has become the solution to end a marriage. But far more evidence suggests these women were not even victims of rape,let alone victims of a crime of passion.
Seems some of these women had geniune concern about what was happening over there.
As for Suicide,women don’t usualy shot themselves inthe face.And certainly women in their 40’s don’t over react to New tough challenges or scary situations by killing themselves. They’ve already worked those emotions out throughout their training andyears of service.
If they were suicides, We must ask what conditions are casuing this…Insurmountable odds, disillusionment, What they’ve seen and how many times they have returned to witness it.
Regardless of the pentagons claims, this problem is one which must be addressed, If they are not out right murdering these women (and men), they are Driving them to it.Isn’t there a committee in both Houses regarding ‘Armed Services’..responsible for Oversight of the aforementioned?
Oh that’s right we have the ‘war hero’ Mac and the ever diligent ‘Feminist’ Hillary on that Senate Committee… I’m sure we’ll be getting answersand action on this major concern like we have on troop aftercare and exit stratedgies….Heckova Job Johnny Boy & ‘Hillraiser’

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By msgmi, August 27, 2008 at 8:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Military criminal investigators are pawns of the chain of command. I had first hand experience of an IG whitewash many years ago and the suspect (CPT) in question implicated several innocent EM incidental to loss(?) of highly classified documents. The IG final report concluded no violations by the CPT and forced the two EM to resign or face court marshal. No one can expect an impartial and transparent investigation when it is conducted in-house on behalf of the chain of command which wants to avoid at ALL COSTS a blemish on their career. It’s criminal when our men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much receive no justice.

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