There Are Lies, Then There Are Damnable Lies

A lot of stories have crossed my desk in the 11 years I’ve been editor-in-chief of  This one’s the most egregious cover-up I’ve ever seen.


Pfc. Lavena Johnson, a 19 year-old honors student from Florissant, Mo., was beaten, raped, murdered and her body set on fire in a contractor’s tent at Balud, Iraq July 19, 2005, yet the U.S. Army would have us believe she committed suicide because she was “depressed.”

The slain soldier’s father, Dr. John H. Johnson, didn’t buy the official story from the start.

/images/johnson lavena.jpg

Pfc. Levena Johnson

“Lavena spoke with my wife Linda on the phone the night before she died,” the doctor said.  “My daughter was her usual upbeat self.  She said how happy we’d all be when she got home. There was no hint of any problem, no sign that she was depressed or thinking of harming herself.”

The Johnsons are a close-knit family.  Deeply-religious, Lavena sang in the church choir.  She was adored by all who knew her.

There was never any trouble with her three older brothers and kid sister. 

“My wife and I hoped that she would go on to college like my boys,” Dr. Johnson said, “but Lavena was very patriotic and wanted to join the Army.”

“I’m a veteran myself,” he said.  “I knew the risks she might go to Iraq or Afghanistan.  I just never thought my baby would be killed and the Army cover it up.”


To understand her father’s suspicions, one must realize how horrific the injuries were to the young soldier, who stood only five feet tall, weighing 98 pounds.

According to the autopsy report, both PFC Johnson’s eyes were blackened and one socket fractured; her nose smashed; her teeth punched inward and lips mangled and swollen.

There was a gunshot wound to her head and a caustic substance like lye poured onto her genitals. Bite and scratch marks covered her upper torso and she’d been set afire with lighter fluid.  The flames had quickly gone out, but the private’s back and hand were burned.

Lying beside the fully clothed body in the tent was an M-16 rifle.  Picture if you will, the petite female holding the weapon at parade rest. The muzzle end would reach higher than her elbow. The Army C.I.D. report claims she somehow positioned the firearm against the left side of her head and still reached out far enough to pull the trigger. Too bad they didn’t check her personnel file first.  Lavena is right-handed.  No gunpowder residue was found on either hand.

Which came first?  The shot in the head, or pouring a caustic subtance on her genitals?  Was that after she bit herself in places her mouth could never reach?


Why no suicide note?  Wouldn’t Levena, if suffering from depression, go to a chaplain for solace? The Army claims she “told other soldiers she wanted to kill herself,” but if she did say that, why didn’t GI’s alert someone to get help?

The answer is clear.  PFC Johnson didn’t commit suicide.  She was murdered. 

Could it be the first female soldier and African-American woman to die in Iraq fought back against her attacker?  That would explain the teeth punched in and severe head injuries.  A rapist, easily weighing twice as much as Johnson, could have straddled his victim and beat her with fists until she stopped struggling.

The gunshot to the head was meant to make it appear to be suicide.  Lye used would kill DNA.  Bite marks indicate sexual activity.  The fire was meant to destroy the body and burn down the tent, but whoever attacked Pfc. Johnson didn’t stick around long enough to make sure the flames didn’t go out.

Dr. Johnson had to file a FOIA request to obtain his slain daughter’s autopsy records.  When he studied the close-up color pictures, the heartsick dad saw stark evidence of her injuries.  He knew she could never have done that to herself.  Yet the Defense Department stubbornly declares her death a suicide – “case closed.”


In a meeting with their congressman, W. Lacey Jr., (D-Mo.), Lavena’s parents were confronted by six Army officers who insisted the teen-aged private killed herself.

Well, the Pentagon can send a battalion of liars if they want, but some day the truth will be known.  In the meantime, Johnson’s family grieves her loss and the beautiful young soldier’s slayer has gotten away with murder.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member