What's The Military Hiding About LaVena Johnson & Kamisha Block's Deaths?

Lavena Johnson and Kamisha Block both died in Iraq — but not at the hands of enemy combatants. Block was killed by her boyfriend, and Johnson, well... The truth of both deaths were covered up.

An LA Times piece by David Zucchino looks at what's happened in the investigation into LaVena Johnson's death since we wrote about it last summer. Sadly, nothing much has changed.

Johnson maintains that his daughter was raped and killed, and that her death scene was staged to make it appear as if she shot herself. He accuses the Army of covering up for a killer or killers to conceal a soldier-on-soldier slaying, explaining that military personnel would have had unrestricted access to the area where his daughter died and therefore would not have attracted undue attention.

If LaVena's death were investigated as a homicide, Johnson added, it would raise questions about base security and discourage women from enlisting.

In fact, in the information released to Johnson, the investigators speculated that Johnson was depressed after a break-up and finding out that she had condyloma — a sexually transmitted infection better known as "genital warts." In fact, investigators have an answer for every piece of evidence that contradicts the story that Johnson killed herself.

Grey, the Army spokesman, said the only blood found outside the tent was on a bench that had been removed after LaVena's body was discovered. Investigators are not aware of any boot prints in blood or on a cement bag, and they found no cuts, bruises or abrasions on her body "that would have led us to believe that they had been created by suspicious means," Grey said.

Investigators believe the bullet went through an open tent flap window, Grey said. They concluded that LaVena had started a small fire inside the tent and burned pages from her journal before she shot herself.

Grey said investigators demonstrated that it was "easily possible" for a person of LaVena's stature to shoot herself through the mouth with an M-16. And because investigators found no evidence of sexual assault, Grey said, there was no reason to collect vaginal or fingernail swabs.

Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, said the damage to LaVena's face was consistent with the rapidly expanding gases discharged by an M-16, which he said could break bones and leave bruises and abrasions.The institute also concluded that LaVena committed suicide.

Part of the reason that none of these answers sound completely convincing is because the military does have quite the recent history of covering up the murder of female soldiers.

A case in point is Kamisha Block, whose death Peter Wilkinson sensitively explores in Maxim (no, for real! Maxim!). Kamisha, as it turns out, got involved with an abusive man to whom she reported, Staff Sergeant Paul Brandon Norris, which is a no-no in the military and has gotten people discharged. Instead, his superiors looked the other way as he transferred units to be closer to his girlfriend, threw fits and acted increasingly jealous in the weeks before shooting her 5 times in a rage.

Back at Fort Hood, Kamisha began to get a sense of Norris' consuming jealousy. One day, while packing up a truck, Kamisha had trouble lifting a box. A male corporal walked up to help and accidentally brushed her breast. According to a witness, an outraged Norris grabbed him by the collar and chewed out both the corporal and Kamisha. She complained to friends how "aggressive" Norris was with her, "in and out of bed."

Besides verbal abuse, Jane Block says, Staff Sergeant Norris also allegedly began physically abusing Kamisha: "He first assaulted her at Fort Hood. A friend of Kamisha's called me and said, ‘He grabbed her by the throat and shoved her against a wall.'" No charges were ever filed.

"Norris was high-strung," recalls a fellow MP. "He was always shouting at soldiers."

And that's just when they were stateside.

Norris had arrived at Camp Liberty in late June, several weeks after Kamisha. Within days she found herself transferred to Norris' 10-person squad. The word around Camp Liberty was that someone up the chain of command had done Norris a favor.

It's quite the favor, to get the woman you're not legally allowed to sleep with transferred into your unit.

To those soldiers stationed under him, Norris seemed to have a knack for taking things too far. If Kamisha showed up somewhere on base, Norris more often than not appeared as well. "Every night, Norris would find some time to spend with Specialist Block, using the excuse that he ‘couldn't sleep' or that he had ‘a lot of problems and needed somebody to talk to,'" recalls one soldier in a sworn statement. "I made comments to Specialist Block's old squad leader that he should do something or say something, to tell Staff Sergeant Norris the relationship was getting out of hand. The squad leader would laugh it off and say, ‘There's nothing I can do.'"

It wasn't until people in the unit started dying that Norris' superiors stopped laughing.

Several days later, on July 23, a senior officer confronted Brandon Norris, who flatly denied dating Kamisha. That same day a platoon sergeant sat down with Norris to discuss the "inappropriate relationship" and the allegation, from senior leaders, that he was showing Kamisha preferential treatment. In that meeting the counselor, who observed that "staff sergeants don't hang out with specialists," issued a stern warning: "This rela­tionship must stop immediately. Specialist Block will be reassigned to 1st Squad, and if you have any business that needs to deal with Spc. Block, you will use the chain of command or the NCO [noncommissioned officer] support channel."

Norris wasn't exactly willing to let it go, nor take responsibility for his own actions. He was, however, willing to ratchet up his abuse of Block.

Norris seemed to shift his anger from potential rivals toward Kamisha herself, who, friends say, wanted to break things off with her increasingly hostile boyfriend. In the first week of August, Norris upbraided Kamisha publicly, as she stood by her Humvee talking with a male soldier. Norris rushed up to her. "What are you doing hanging around him?" he screamed, grabbing Kamisha by her right arm. When she tried to move away, Norris shouted, "Don't walk away when I'm talking to you!"

"You're not supposed to grab other soldiers like that," the male soldier protested.

"You need to stay out of this," a seething Norris replied. "This is between an NCO and a soldier."

Three weeks later, he walked into Block shared barracks, ordered her roommate out and began yelling, finally firing his weapon into the wall to scare her. That's when her roommate ran back in.

Norris wheeled and pointed the Beretta at Jennings, who jumped behind a nearby barrier, then ran for help. It was too late. Inside trailer #15-255-C, Norris unloaded, shooting Kamisha Block five times, including rounds to her shoulder, chest, and head. Then, as his girlfriend lay on the floor of her trailer mortally wounded, Brandon Norris turned the gun on himself, putting a single bullet into the right side of his head. Medics who arrived minutes later found Norris dead at the scene and Kamisha, her pulse weak, wheezing, with a sucking chest wound.

Then, Army officials told her family that she was killed by friendly fire. It took Block's mother's personal investigation and quite a crusade to get the Army to admit that she's been deliberately killed by a superior officer with whom she was involved in an illegal and abusive relationship that their superiors had chosen to overlook for months. The revised report that the Army did release, however, was so heavily redacted and missing information that Block's former Congressman, Kevin Brady (R-Texas), had to pressure the Defense Department's inspector general to investigate the investigation.

So, basically, both women are still dead and the military's apparently still hiding things. Johnson's father thinks that they're doing it so as not to hurt recruitment, because finding out the military won't help you get out of abusive relationships or hold people accountable for your death is definitely worse than finding out they'll actively lie to your family about it.

Father Disputes Army's Suicide Finding In Daughter's Death [LA Times]
Love And Death In Iraq [Maxim]

Earlier: LaVena Johnson: Murdered By Her Colleagues, Ignored By The Army
There Really Aren't Ways In Which They Won't Lie