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Stop me if you've heard this one...
August 10, 2007 2:54 AM   Subscribe

19 year old Pfc. LaVena Johnson's dead body was found in her tent, near Balad, Iraq. Her face was beaten, nose broken, teeth loosened, and she'd been shot through the left side of her head. A trail of blood was found nearby, and the tent appeared to be partly burned. The Army ruled it a suicide. Bloggers were doubtful. The Johnson family asked that the remains be disinterred and a better investigation launched. Meanwhile, the internet pushes back.
posted by toma (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
I posted this on another site:

You can throw in your two cents as well, start here:
http://abcnews.go.com/Site/page?id=3052660
Choose 'Suggestions for new content" and fire away.

Here's mine..

I am writing to you in hope that you will finally cover the scandalous death of PFC. LaVena Johnson while stationed in Iraq. Her beaten body was found in her tent near Balad with a bullet hole in the left side of her head.

While the family was at first casually notified that it appeared to be a homicide, officials later ruled that it was a suicide, ignoring obvious contrary evidence including her battered face, a blood trail, the dubious theory that an M-16 was the weapon, and the apparent attempt to burn the tent down (probably to destroy evidence of the crime). This was a tragedy, but now it's a scandal given the Army's seeming lack of brains or character.

The sad parallels with Pat Tillman's death are eerie: young and patriotic Americans, from families of Veterans, in good health and in good standing with the service, needlessly dying, apparently killed by their own, with the events covered up by a clumsy military machine.

Please shed light on this terrible crime, her family is owed so much better. The considerable powers vested in ABC news by way of our public airwaves and its long record of substantive journalism could turn the tide of misfortune the family's had to endure. I think we can all agree that Pfc. Johnson deserves far better than the obviously at least incompetent treatment she's received after her death.

Thank You,

[me]
posted by toma at 2:59 AM on August 10, 2007


I hadn't heard about this at all. Circumstances are indeed fishy.
posted by zardoz at 3:45 AM on August 10, 2007


A, a bruised, battered body the product of another suicide eh? Sounds a lot like the death of Kenney Trentadue.
posted by chlorus at 4:29 AM on August 10, 2007


Her face was beaten, nose broken, teeth loosened, and she'd been shot through the left side of her head. A trail of blood was found nearby, and the tent appeared to be partly burned. The Army ruled it a suicide.

I'm surprised that they didn't claim Pfc. Johnson valiantly fell while defending her tent from a team of 600 al-Qaeda ninja-terrorists.

I agree that it does sound extremely fishy, and furthermore I don't think I'll ever be able to believe the Army about soldier's deaths after the Tillman fiasco.

If the people at the top are manipulating accounts of soldier's deaths to bolster support for the war, then there really isn't any reason why we shouldn't assume the worst whenever the Army says "Oh, Private so-n-so choked on a pretzel. He certainly wasn't beaten to death by his bunkmates for being gay! No siree!"
posted by Avenger at 5:46 AM on August 10, 2007


Yeah, suicide by beating the shit out of your own face. Right.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:55 AM on August 10, 2007


Man, her and Danny Casolaro.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:01 AM on August 10, 2007


The worst forensics team imaginable. I guess D students need jobs too.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


While we're listing innovative military "suicides", it would be remiss to ignore Pte. Geoff Gray, who was on duty at the Deepcut Barracks in Surrey when he took his life by shooting himself in the head. Twice.
posted by flashboy at 6:05 AM on August 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


The army likes to lie. It's how you keep morale up.

That said, this story of a suicide by beating yourself till you are pretty bloody, and then shooting yourself in the head is not that great a lie.
posted by chunking express at 6:11 AM on August 10, 2007


actually, it's an awesome lie if you can get 30% of the American people to believe it.
posted by Avenger at 6:12 AM on August 10, 2007


Hardly: 30% of Americans will believe anything. Anything at all.
posted by chunking express at 6:18 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


actually, it's an awesome lie if you can get 30% of the American people to believe it.
A Big Lie, in fact.
posted by Flunkie at 6:19 AM on August 10, 2007


God damn, the Army is fucked up. This is so disgusting. "The investigation is closed" indeed. This is really ugly.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:20 AM on August 10, 2007


An Army representative initially told LaVena's father, Dr. John Johnson, that his daughter died of "died of self-inflicted, noncombat injuries," but initially added that it was not a suicide.

What does that even mean?
posted by smackfu at 7:06 AM on August 10, 2007


i wonder what was going through her mind right at the end.
posted by andywolf at 7:09 AM on August 10, 2007


Given the facts I wouldn't say that suicide was impossible-- the bruising and broken nose could have been caused by the trauma of the gun shot, the fire could have started accidentally, the blood trail could have been caused by a sloppy early investigator to the scene, she physically could have shot herself in that way, and signs of depression aren't always obvious.

It just seems really improbable. Almost as improbable as someone looking at these facts and saying, "Looks like suicide." I'd be curious to hear the investigators' logic supporting the suicide hypothesis.
posted by justkevin at 7:15 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


flashboy, it's not as uncommon as you'd think. Do EMS long enough, and you'll run into people who shoot themselves in the head and don't hit anything immediately fatal. A subset of those will shoot themselves again. There's also a non-trivial chance that a gun will simply fire two rounds from the recoil and spasm.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:20 AM on August 10, 2007


Saying that those stationed in Iraq are prone to suicide is a way to keep morale up?

They need a better marketing team.
posted by sourwookie at 7:30 AM on August 10, 2007 [2 favorites]


Going off on a tangent, but there's a wonderful quote on the "Big Lie" Wikipedia page that Flunkie linked. This is from "a report prepared during [World War II] by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler's psychological profile":
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
posted by bbuda at 7:43 AM on August 10, 2007 [14 favorites]


Wasn't this a movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson?
posted by gsh at 7:46 AM on August 10, 2007


Wasn't this a movie with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson?

Dick Cheney doesn't give a good goddamn what you think you're entitled to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:48 AM on August 10, 2007


You can't handle the truth! *expends spittle in an unladylike fashion*
posted by miss lynnster at 7:51 AM on August 10, 2007


.
posted by Webbster at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2007


*expends spittle in an unladylike fashion*

between this and the fpp description, i'm gettin' pretty wet over here
posted by Mikey-San at 8:19 AM on August 10, 2007


The worst forensics team imaginable. I guess D students need jobs too.

D students would have just followed the book, and would have reached the obvious conclusion that it was a homicide.

No, it takes an A+ ambitious type, one of the best and the brightest, to successfully lie about something like this, to create enough FUD for such a lie to make it so far, and to successfully stonewall any real inquiry. My big question is...why?
posted by Artful Codger at 8:32 AM on August 10, 2007


andywolf : i wonder what was going through her mind right at the end.

*considers the setup...*

Nah, too easy.

posted by quin at 9:21 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


No truth-handler you! Bah! I deride your truth-handling abilities!
posted by kirkaracha at 9:24 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


As an individual, this story makes me extremely sad. As a part of a group, I don't know what the hell is going on in this country anymore, and I don't know what I can do to help this girl in her memory.
posted by phaedon at 9:29 AM on August 10, 2007


ah, come on quin. goddamnit, i lob a good one out there and no one hit's it outta the park?
posted by andywolf at 9:30 AM on August 10, 2007


An Army representative initially told LaVena's father, Dr. John Johnson, that his daughter died of "died of self-inflicted, noncombat injuries," but initially added that it was not a suicide.

smackfu : What does that even mean?

I suppose it could mean that she drove her Humvee into a wall, or fell off of a roof or something.

I'm bothered by the fact that they changed it to a suicide. I mean, the fact that they are pretty clearly covering something up is bad enough, but to then to say, 'Oh, it wasn't an accident, she committed a mortal sin."

Don't get me wrong, personally, I don't believe that suicide is anything other than taking one's own life, but there are a lot of religions where this is pretty close to the worst thing you can do.

I really hope this all comes out, because this kind of shit has got to stop. It's bad enough that we still have people over there, but if they are now killing each other? It's gone too far.
posted by quin at 9:47 AM on August 10, 2007


See also: female cadet officer at Sandhurst in critical condition, allegedly chucked out of a window.

a robot made out of meat writes 'Do EMS long enough, and you'll run into people who shoot themselves in the head and don't hit anything immediately fatal. A subset of those will shoot themselves again. There's also a non-trivial chance that a gun will simply fire two rounds from the recoil and spasm.'

I don't doubt you, but in the context of Deep Cut, where Private Sean Benton also committed 'suicide' by firing five shots into his own chest, four of them from a distance, it looks a bit more fishy. (Two other soldiers died there too. Probably suicides, but the army destroying their uniforms and other forensic evidence does make one wonder what the fuck was going on at the barracks...)
posted by jack_mo at 10:37 AM on August 10, 2007


Anyone else creeped out when they hovered over "the remains" and got a link to YouTube?
posted by alby at 12:42 PM on August 10, 2007


An Army representative initially told LaVena's father, Dr. John Johnson, that his daughter died of "died of self-inflicted, noncombat injuries," but initially added that it was not a suicide.

What does that even mean?

It's a catchall phrase that covers accidental shootings but can include suicides if not specifically ruled out.
posted by etaoin at 1:15 PM on August 10, 2007


My big question is...why?

I think the obvious conclusion would be rape. It's less bad for the Army to say that a soldier committed suicide ("despite our best screening procedures, the occasional unbalanced individual slips through and is unable to handle the stresses of war. It's a tragic situation. Did we mention she's a woman? Stress affects them worse than men. Perhaps we should revisit having women in operational theatres...") than to say that a soldier was raped.

Obviously I don't know. But it's a plausible explanation, I think.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:22 PM on August 10, 2007 [3 favorites]


Jesus, Is there anything you guys can't second guess from afar?
posted by SweetJesus at 6:03 PM on August 10, 2007


SweetJesus, if one accepts the premise that this wasn't actually a suicide, one must therefore look at plausible reasons for why the Army would call it such.

I made a point of saying that I don't know what happened.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:14 PM on August 10, 2007


Jesus, Is there anything...

Eponysterical!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:53 PM on August 10, 2007


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