A Kentucky lawmaker who on Tuesday denied accusations that he molested a 17-year-old girl in 2012 died Wednesday night of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the Bullitt County coroner.
State Rep. Dan Johnson died of a single gunshot wound on Greenwell Ford Road at an undetermined time Wednesday night, Bullitt County coroner Dave Billings confirmed. Johnson stopped his car at the end of a bridge in a secluded area, the Associated Press reported, and walked to the front of his car.
Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted the following statement Wednesday night: “Saddened to hear of tonight’s death of KY Representative Dan Johnson...My heart breaks for his wife and children...These are heavy days in Frankfort and in America...May God shed His grace on us all...We sure need it...”
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The Republican Party of Kentucky and leaders of the House Republican Caucus called for Johnson to step down Monday after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published a lengthy article saying that Johnson allegedly forcibly kissed, groped and used his finger to penetrate a 17-year-old girl, despite her asking him to stop, on New Year’s Eve 2012.
Backed by friends and family, Johnson denied the allegations in a press conference, Tuesday.
In a Facebook post that has since been deleted but was posted before his death, Johnson said “The accusations from NPR are false GOD and only GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be.”
Johnson went on to say PTSD is a sickness “that will take my life,” asked for everyone to “Forgive and Love everyone especially yourself” and “blame no person, Satan is the accuser so blame the Devil himself.” The Center for Investigative Reporting’s article raised questions about Johnson’s claims that he worked at Ground Zero in New York City providing “last rites” for those pulled from the World Trade Center.
David Adams, a friend and occasional spokesman for Johnson, said he hadn’t been able to reach Johnson’s cell phone Wednesday night.
“The only thing I’d say is to honor his wishes and blame only Satan,” Adams said.
Johnson served as the “bishop” of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville, a church he said reached out to people who might not be welcomed at other churches. He became a state representative in 2016, after beating Democratic incumbent Linda Belcher.
During the campaign, the Republican Party of Kentucky denounced Johnson over racist Facebook posts. They called for his resignation after the KyCIR article Monday. Wednesday, they expressed their sympathy for his family.
“This is a tragic situation,” said Mac Brown, the chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Dan Johnson.”
House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, also asked for prayers for the Johnson family.
“It is with great sadness that we have received confirmed reports of the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson this evening,” Osborne said. “Please keep his family in your prayers during this incredibly difficult time.”
Johnson was a controversial figure in the House of Representatives, but former House Speaker Jeff Hoover said Johnson offered him encouragement after Hoover stepped down as speaker over sexual harassment allegations in November.
“I am very sad over the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson,” tweeted Hoover, R-Jamestown. “Over the past few weeks in some of the darkest days of my life, he reached out to me, encouraged me, and prayed for me. Prayers for his wife, children, grandchildren and all affected by this sad event.
“In America, those accused of wrongdoing are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Hoover added, “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.”
Louisville Public Media, which produced the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting article, said it reached out to Johnson several times over the course of reporting the article.
"All of us at Louisville Public Media are deeply sad to hear that State Representative Dan Johnson has died, apparently of suicide. We grieve for his family, friends, church community and constituents,” Michael Skoler, the president of Louisville Public Media, said in a statement. “Our Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting released a report on Johnson this week. Our aim, as always, is to provide the public with fact-based, unbiased reporting and hold public officials accountable for their actions.”
Johnson’s death produced a strong reaction on Twitter, with several politicians asking for prayers for Johnson’s family.
“Just terrible news from Kentucky tonight on the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. “I cannot imagine his pain or the heartbreak his family is dealing with tonight. Kelley and I pray for his loved ones.”