By Chris Kenning
(Reuters) – Kentucky state Representative Dan Johnson, who was facing sexual assault accusations, died in a probable suicide on Wednesday, Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings said.
Johnson, 57, also the leader of the Louisville-area Heart of Fire Church, held a news conference on Tuesday at which he denied accusations contained in a report by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. The report, published earlier in the week, included accusations from a woman that Johnson molested her in 2013 when she was a teenager.
Johnson, whose press conference was widely reported by local media, also defied calls by some legislators to step down.
On Wednesday evening, Johnson was found dead in a probable suicide from a single gunshot wound near Louisville, the coroner said, adding that an autopsy would be performed on Thursday.
Billings said law enforcement officials had been searching for Johnson after someone read a post on his Facebook page, became concerned and contacted police.
The post has since been taken down, but the Courier-Journal reported that it appeared to be a farewell and read in part, “the accusations from NPR are false, GOD and only GOD knows the truth. Nothing is the way they make it out to be.”
The death comes amid a national reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse that has included allegations of misconduct in a number of state legislatures, including in Kentucky.
Kentucky Republican Jeff Hoover recently resigned his post as Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations.
“Saddened to hear of tonight’s death of KY Representative Dan Johnson,” Kentucky Republican Gov. Matt Bevin wrote on Twitter. “My heart breaks for his family tonight…these are heavy days in Frankfort and in America…may God indeed shed His grace on us all…we sure need it.”
Michael Skoler, President of Louisville Public Media, which operates the investigative reporting center, said in a statement on social media that the organization reached out to Johnson numerous times during its seven-month investigation but that he declined to discuss the group’s findings.
Johnson was elected in 2016 despite becoming known for a 2016 Facebook post comparing President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to monkeys, WDRB-TV has reported.
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)