ZANESVILLE -- An investigation into the Dec. 3 shooting of then Private First Class Justin Johnson has revealed the soldier who shot him made false statements to his commanding officers about the incident and attempted to hide evidence.
Now, Justin's mother, Sherrie Johnson wants answers to what she calls the U.S. Army's lack of punishment for those responsible.
"I don't think this young man set out to intentionally shoot Justin. It was just gross negligence," Johnson said. "It was a series of bumbling errors."
While awaiting for his Ranger Indoctrination Program at Fort Benning in Georgia to begin, Justin, 19, who has since been promoted to specialist, volunteered along with other RIP holdovers to help with an exercise with the 3/75 Ranger Battaltion.
Johnson said her son volunteered because he thought he might be able to learn something from the trained Rangers and get a jump-start on his own training. As part of the exercise, Justin was supposed to be mock casualty.
However, he ended up being shot with live ammunition.
According to the Army investigation, the soldier who appears to have shot Justin initially was using blank ammo for the exercise. After he ran through a clip of blanks, the report said he "inadvertently loaded a magazine containing live ammunition into his weapon. He fired a shot, which blew his Blank Firing Adapter (BFA) from his weapon. He failed to recognize indicators that he had fired live ammunition through his M4 carbine."
The soldier went to an officer to mention the BFA, but it was disregarded. Johnson said from speaking with Army personnel and reading the report, the soldier was supposed to have just said "bang, bang" from then on instead of shooting the weapon.
But the soldier then placed another BFA on his weapon and returned to the exercise. When he came upon the building where Justin was located, he fired multiple live shots. A couple of those -- and possibility parts of the new BFA that blew off -- hit Justin.
His injuries included his right femur being shattered and the femoral artery severed. The bones in his left leg were shattered, as was his left hand.
What happened following the shooting is what upsets Johnson.
According to the report, the soldier took the live round magazine, hid it on himself and replaced the clip with a blank magazine. He was told to leave the room and the blank magazine was taken from the weapon, and when the chamber was cleared, a live round was discovered.
The soldier was not searched at this time and was allowed to move to an area where he was able to throw the magazine of live ammo into a wooded area.
It also took nearly an hour to evacuate Justin from the site because those present for the training could not reach the MEDEVAC frequency with their radios. When someone tried to use a cell phone, they contacted the 911 for Columbus, Ga., not the Fort Benning 911.
The report points out that an officer on the scene did not bring his hand-held radio issued by range control, called a "range brick," which is used in an event of accident for the evacuation of an injured person.
While the report makes recommendations concerning several individuals, Johnson said she is unaware of what actions the Army actually took.
For example, the report recommends the soldier who shot Justin be charged with dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice and making false official statements. It states, "He failed to inspect his equipment and the equipment of his team. He fired live ammunition through his weapon and failed to recognize indicators that live ammunition was loaded into his weapon. He made false statements to his chain of command immediately following the incident and hid evidence."
The report also makes recommendations for those who failed to recognize the signs such as the BFA being blown off.
Army officials could not comment on the matter at this time.
Johnson, who has been busy with taking care of Justin, said she gets angry whenever she looks at the report. Having done her own investigation, she said it is her understanding that the soldier who shot her son was demoted, but she is investigating whether he was promoted later.
She sent letters to asking officials to look into the incident, to President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and various Army officials.
She received one response from the White House advising her that her concerns were turned over to the Department of Defense.
"I want this boy court-martialed and kicked out of the Army," Johnson said.
She said if her son cannot have the Army career he was working toward, then neither should this soldier. Johnson said her son is getting a medical discharge from the Army. Afterward he will be able to work through the Veterans Administration to get some help.
Justin has been in and out of the hospital since the shooting. He had surgery at Genesis Good Samaritan Hospital Tuesday to amputate part of his big toe on his left foot, where a bone infection had set in.
"It's going pretty good. I am going a lot better than I was a couple of months ago," Justin said.
He has been working with physical therapists at Genesis since he returned home and thinks they have done a good job. He said working on rehabilitating his right leg is the top priority right now.
"I can handle weight on my left leg, but not on my right," he said.
Justin said he appreciates all the support he has received from people locally and from others around the country who have heard about his story.
Johnson said she wants as many people as possible to hear her son's story and promises not to give up on getting answers from the Army about the discipline of the shooter. She has tried contacting him directly, but has not received any responses.
"I want him to understand what he has done to our family. He has changed our family forever, and I want him to think about that for the rest of his life," she said.
Army's actions fall short for soldier's mom - zanesvilletimesrecorder.com