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On July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her 20th birthday, Private LaVena Johnson was found dead in her tent at a military base in Balad, Iraq. Military officials ruled her death a suicide, saying she shot herself in the head.
The tent she was found in belonged to military contractor, Halliburton/KBR.
LaVena’s parents, Dr. John and Linda Johnson, were not satisfied with that ruling. They had spoken with their daughter just days before her death and she seemed in good spirits. She was also planning on returning home for the holidays that year.
When the Johnsons were able to view LaVena’s body as well as read the autopsy report and view autopsy photos, questions were raised.
LaVena, who was 5-foot tall and weighed 100 pounds, had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument. Her nose had been broken and her teeth knocked back. Bruises, teeth marks, and scratches were located on the upper part of her body. An inflammable liquid had been poured on her back and right hand, and then set on fire. Her bruised and lacerated vagina had lye poured into it, probably to erase DNA evidence. Debris found on her body suggested she had been dragged.
LaVena was fully clothed when her body was discovered, and a trail of blood was leading to the tent. She had been shot on the left side of her head. LaVena was right-handed.
Despite the obvious signs of murder, the death ruling has never changed nor has anyone been arrested for her murder.
LaVena’s case was the first case uploaded to the website, Military Families for Justice (as of May 2015, the site is down), started by Tracy Shue, widow of Colonel Philip Shue, Huffington Post writer Cilla McCain, and Kimberly Stahlman, widow of Colonel Michael Stahlman USMC.
In 2010, a documentary called The Silent Truth was filmed about LaVena’s death.
Her family established a website to help bring awareness to her case. (Update: As of March 2015, this website is down. I do not know if this is temporary or permanent. I removed the link, nevertheless.)
Here is a more in-depth article on LaVena’s death.
Update: In 2016, Donald Watkins, a well-known trial lawyer with over 40 years experience, named General Kevin P. Byrnes as LaVena’s killer.
To read my opinion on this case, please click here.
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