Missing Fla. Coast Guardsman found dead, officials say
Updated On: Jun 06 2014 12:15:50 AM EDT
Coast Guard officials say the guardsman reported missing Wednesday was found dead as a result of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnnie Walton, 37, who joined the Coast Guard in July 2001, was on duty at Coast Guard Station Ponce De Leon Inlet in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, when he disappeared while exercising off base, according to Coast Guard officials.
WKMG-TV reports at a news conference held Thursday evening at the Coast Guard Station in New Smyrna Beach, it was confirmed Walton was found dead as a result of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Officials said Walton was found by other crew members in a secluded area off base. Counselors were brought on base Thursday morning to help Walton's colleagues.
The Coast Guard said Walton used his own gun, which was not a USCG weapon, to take his life. Officials said his access to USCG weapons was revoked Friday.
“We are truly heartbroken by this tragedy. This is an incredibly difficult time for everyone involved, and we extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to Petty Officer Walton’s family, friends, shipmates and loved ones,” said Cmdr. James B. Rush, response department head for Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, Florida.
The Department of Children and Families said Thursday evening that Walton was being investigated for possible child abuse allegations. DCF said the investigation was ongoing.
New Smyrna Beach Police Department released a statement Thursday, saying, "Petty Officer Walton has been located and the search is no longer continuing but I cannot disclose any further information right now."
A Coast Guard spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday they are aware of Walton being involved in an investigation with the Edgewater Police Department but did not know what the investigation entailed.
"Whenever we find out a member is being investigated, we contact the local authorities, we contact the Coast Guard Investigative Services so they can work closely together. We support the local authorities," Rush said. "When he reported to us that he was under investigation, we pulled some of his qualification. "He did not have access to any Coast Fuard weapons, or ammunition, or anything like that."
Walton notified the Coast Guard on Friday about the criminal investigation in which he was involved. Officials said certain privileges were pulled from him at that time.
Walton was in the USCG for 13 years and in New Smyrna Beach for four years. Officials said he lived in Edgewater with his wife and three children -- two of whom were his stepchildren.
"He was loved by everybody here at the unit and definitely cherished," Rush said of Walton.
Rush said there was no indication of a suicide note.
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