Parents almost never want to accept that their offspring were capable of suicide, let’s start with that. So in a death investigation, a mother’s lament that “my baby would never have killed herself” is rather useless, sad to say. In fact, the study about what parents can, and can’t, accept about the lives of their offspring rises as a whole mystery in itself.
But we’re here to talk about the poignant death of one particular soldier, past basic training and settling into duty in Iraq in 2005, LaVena Johnson. The army says she shot herself with her own rifle the night of July 19.
She was a bright and spirited girl, by all accounts. There was nothing to suggest that, out of the blue, she would turn her gun on herself and take her own life. But army life, away from home, has its stresses–it could happen.
But is it likely it happened here?
Mostly, we hear from totally opposite perspectives, comments that come from different worlds. The military says that, regrettably, this young soldier just flipped out under life’s stresses, set a tent belonging to private contractor KBR on fire, and inside the tent turned an M-16 rifle on herself, ending her life. After much investigation, case closed.
The family, and advocates skeptical of military justice, scoff at the conclusion. Her communications with family and friends were all upbeat. No suicidal warning signs. And the official version, they say, has more holes than a block of swiss cheese used for target practice.
Many experts doubt the “exit wound” came from that firearm, and even the Army’s residue tests don’t indicate LeVena handling the weapon. The death bullet has never been found. Shouldn’t that slug have been located and confirmed by tests to have passed through her skull?
Even more bizarrely, her body showed signs of trama, perhaps beating and violence, from her mouth and teeth to the small of her back. None of that happens with a gunshot to the head. And apparent vaginal trauma does suggest the real possibility of rape.
The army, even the Congress, decline to investigate further. Do we have input from a truly objective source? The Cold Case Investigative Research Institute, out of Atlanta, looked at this case long and hard. In the end, they said they had nothing new, and nothing “that suggested wrongdoing” on the part of the Army.
Which means that here, at M.O. Mystery, our work on the case has only begun, and we need to acquire the report the CCIRI completed, not posted or summarized on their website. How did they reconcile the photos we’ve all seen on-line with the Army’s version of events? Did they speak with the persons close to LeVena just before her death?
Do they disagree with forensic specialists, such as Cyril Wecht, who finds the facts of the shooting, from death-scene photos, troubling and contradictory?
We look forward to input from a informed community of mystery analysts on this one.