Kentucky state Representative Dan Johnson, a first-term Republican, took his life on a bridge in Mount Washington, Ky., according to Sheriff Donnie Tinnell of Bullitt County. Johnson had been accused of the sexual molestation of a 17-year-old girl at the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville, an evangelical Christian congregation where he was bishop. According to the local coroner, Johnson died as the result of a single gunshot wound, and added that it was a probable suicide. On Thursday, an autopsy is expected.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published on Monday an investigation that alleged that Johnson had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old, who is now 21 years old. The parishioner alleged that early on Jan. 1, 2013, after a New Year’s Eve party at the church, she and Johnson’s daughter were sleeping at an apartment below the church’s fellowship hall. After falling asleep on a sofa, she said, she woke up to find Johnson drunk. He allegedly kissed her and fondled her breasts under her blouse, and penetrated between the legs with his finger.

Within months, the teenager reported the assault to the Louisville Metro Police Department. No charges were filed. However, her account of the event was corroborated by members of her family, as well as her therapist’s notes and Facebook exchanges with Johnson, according to Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

The 57-year-old Johnson denied the report, saying at a Tuesday news conference: “This allegation concerning this lady, this young girl, absolutely has no merit. These are unfounded accusations, totally.” Johnson refused to resign, despite calls from Republicans.

Following the news that Johnson had been found dead, Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, tweeted: 

“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.”

Former Kentucky House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who resigned in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, tweeted that Johnson had encouraged and prayed for him during “the darkest days” of Hoover’s life. Hoover also appeared to shunt some blame for Johnson’s death on persons who had asserted the validity of the accusations against his friend.

Hoover tweeted: “In America, those accused of wrongdoing are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Persons posting accusations on social media as truth, and those who are self righteous and indignant over mere accusations must do better. Personal attacks don’t have to be part of politics.”

In a note he posted on Facebook in the hours before his apparent suicide, Johnson wrote, "The accusations from NPR are false God and only God knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be. America will not survive this judge and jury fake news." He also referred to post-traumatic stress disorder: "24/7 16 years is a sickness that will take my life. I cannot handle it any longer. It has won this life. But heaven is my home."

Johnson defeated an incumbent Democrat in the 2016 election, and had been in office for less than one year. Republicans criticized him during the campaign for what they regarded as defamatory Facebook posts, including a post that depicted Michelle and Barack Obama as apes. In one Johnson wrote: “Allah sucks. Mohammed sucks. Islam sucks. Any of you Hadji’s [Muslim warriors] have an issue with me saying this, private message me and I’ll gladly give you my address. You can come visit me, where I promise I will kill you in my front yard!!” Services at his church featured members of the congregation bearing firearms.

Some comments on social media appeared to approve of the apparent suicide. A Twitter user with the handle "CykoDad" responded to news: "Good," while "Haston" wrote "Praise the Lord. Pass the ammunition."

 

 

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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