SOUTH PARIS, Maine — Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant said Thursday that former WCSH-TV meteorologist Tom Johnston was the “one and only suspect” in an alleged gross sexual assault a month ago near Sunday River ski resort in Newry.
Johnston, 46, of Old Orchard Beach, was found dead by apparent suicide five days later in Auburn.
Gallant said that based on reports from the alleged victim, witnesses and informants — who will remain anonymous — police are confident they have solved the case.
According to a heavily redacted police report released following a news conference Thursday, the alleged victim, an adult woman, went with a group of people to the annual Spring Festival at Sunday River ski resort on Saturday, April 1, where Johnston served as master of ceremonies.
The alleged victim said she consumed alcoholic beverages at the party-like event, also known as Parrothead Weekend, before returning to a home outside Sunday River to rest.
She told police that after lying down, she was startled by someone entering the room. She then awoke to discover a man she identified as Johnston in her bed.
Gallant said detectives aren’t sure whether the two knew each other prior to meeting at the event.
Others at the home confronted Johnston, who “hastily left the place,” Gallant said.
The woman and a friend then went to the friend’s Bridgton home. The next morning, a Sunday, she reported the assault and was treated at Bridgton Hospital.
Johnston was reported missing by his girlfriend early Monday morning when he didn’t return home to Old Orchard Beach.
Gallant said he likely knew he was a suspect.
According to a detective’s report, employees of a Newry restaurant told deputies that Johnston stopped there the night of the assault to eat.
“While there he had some food and performed a weather skit for one of the patrons,” the detective wrote. “This skit was recorded and forwarded to myself.”
Detectives later received a call from a store in Mechanic Falls that reported Johnston had purchased razor blades there on Sunday.
Police said that when Johnston didn’t report to WCSH for work as scheduled at 3 p.m. that Monday, they “pinged” his cellphone and found that he was in Auburn.
Gallant said police did not publicize him as a missing person “because we didn’t feel the public was in danger.”
His body was found that Thursday in Auburn. Police said he apparently cut his wrists, became unconscious from blood loss and died from hypothermia.
Results from DNA samples taken from the alleged victim and from Johnston have not yet been processed, but detectives said following the news conference that the case would not have relied on them.
Gallant said Johnston would have been charged with Class B felony gross sexual assault, but detectives declined to elaborate on the alleged assault.
Johnston had worked as a meteorologist at WCSH for three years.
Speculation about his involvement in an alleged sexual assault emerged in the days following his death, but Thursday’s news conference was the first time law enforcement authorities confirmed he had been a suspect.
Following Thursday’s news conference, WCSH President and General Manager Brian Cliffe wrote on the station’s Facebook page, “We are disturbed to learn this troubling information. We began covering Tom’s disappearance in early April. During today’s Oxford County Sheriff’s Office’s news conference, we learned for the first time with everyone else that Tom would have been charged in a Class B gross sexual assault that happened on April 1, if he was still alive. We share in the community’s shock and our thoughts are with the victim and the families involved.”
Advocates said the case elevates concerns about impacts on survivors of sexual assault and those affected by suicide.
“The case is devastating and the repercussions may resonate throughout the communities impacted for some time,” Cara Courchesne, communications director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said earlier this month in a release. She added that suicide and sexual violence both result in serious trauma, which is more immediate and serious when the two coincide.
“It’s important for victims of sexual violence to know that someone else’s violent actions or suicide is not their fault, and that help is available,” Courchesne said.
To reach a sexual assault advocate, call the Statewide Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Line at 800-871-7741, TTY 888-458-5599. This free and confidential 24-hour service is accessible from anywhere in Maine. Calls are automatically routed to the closest sexual violence service provider.
To reach a suicide prevention hotline, call 888-568-1112 or 800-273-TALK (8255), or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.