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DOD launches formal investigation into Sgt. La David Johnson's death

Investigation aims answer questions about 4 U.S. Army deaths in Niger

MIAMI – The Department of Defense launched a formal investigation into the circumstances of the ambush in Africa that left Sgt. La David Johnson dead, according to an ABC News reporter who talked to a source with U.S. Africa Command on Thursday. 

Johnson was shot dead in the West African Republic of Niger, the DOD reported Saturday. He was working in the landlocked country's southwest volatile area of Tongo Tongo. The DOD reported there was an ongoing investigation of the Oct. 4 incident, which involved the use of an unarmored truck, lack of air cover and questions about how Johnson was inadvertently left behind in the desert during the evacuation.

According to a U.S. official who talked to CNN, Johnson was leaving a meeting in an unarmored pickup truck Wednesday when enemy fighters targeted him and his team with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. Johnson likely got separated when they all got off the unarmored trucks to run for cover and return fire.

During the firefight, U.S. troops called in French fighter jets. According to Reuters' sources the French responded but circled overhead without firing, because the enemy was too close to the U.S.-Nigerien patrol. Reuters also reported the incident upset French officials over the U.S. military's lack of contingency plans. 

"The threats at the time were deemed to be unlikely, so there was no overhead armed air cover during the engagement," U.S. Army Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for Africa Command said during a news conference after the attack.

The attack also killed Nigerien troops and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright. 

Nigerien troops recovered Johnson's body Oct. 6 and his body made it back to the U.S. for a return of remains ceremony Oct. 7 when President Donald Trump was playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham. 

Johnson's body returned to Miami International Airport Tuesday. Rep. Frederica Wilson was in the car when Johnson's pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, spoke to President Donald Trump for about 5 minutes. Wilson said Trump was "insensitive" and told her Johnson knew what "he signed up for" -- a comment Trump denied. 

"Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action," Trump tweeted adding that he had proof. 

Wilson said she wasn't the only one in the car who heard the conversation and her office was bombarded with threats after she spoke up. Johnson's aunt Cowanda Jones-Johnson adopted him when he was a little boy and his mother died. She said she also heard Trump's comment. 

"President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson said. 

Johnson's remains were at a funeral home in Hollywood Thursday. The close-casket viewing will be from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, and the funeral service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, at the Christ The Rock Church, 11000 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. The interment will be a the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, 3001 N. 72 St.

Local 10 News' Sanela Sabovic, Glenna Milberg, Christian De La Rosa contributed to this report. 

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.