Officials: Coast Guardsman died from self-inflicted gunshot wound



NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. - A Coast Guardsman who disappeared Wednesday was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Thursday, officials said.

Channel 9 learned that the man was part of a criminal investigation involving child abuse.

On Wednesday, investigators said Petty Officer 2nd Class Johnnie Walton was last seen jogging off base Tuesday morning in New Smyrna Beach, where he left his wallet and cellphone behind.
Walton was last seen near the Coast Guard Station in New Smyrna Beach.

He disappeared while on duty and out for a run with members of his unit, officials said.

A search was launched Wednesday and included members of the Coast Guard, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and local police departments.

On Thursday night officials held a press conference about the investigation.

They said Walton was found 11 hours after he was reported missing in a secluded area on base.

Late Thursday afternoon, Florida Department of Children and Families officials told Channel 9's Kenneth Craig that their agency was investigating Walton for "child abuse or neglect."

During the news conference Thursday, officials said Walton had been stripped of privileges because of that investigation, but there was no indication he would hurt himself.

They said he likely used a personal weapon to kill himself because he no longer had access to Coast Guard weapons.

Officials did not discuss any other previous disciplinary actions against Walton.

Walton joined the Coast Guard in 2001. He was married and had two children.

A police report from 2011 shows that Walton was arrested in 2011 on battery charges after his wife said he hit her in the face, pushed her to the ground and kicked her after she fell to the ground alongside a road.

The report said Walton was hiding in the woods when police arrived at that scene. Prosecutors did not take that case to trial.

Authorities wouldn't elaborate on the investigation, but the missing-person report on Walton indicated that he was having family problems and was suffering from alcoholism.

Coast Guard officials are planning a press conference Thursday night to discuss Walton's disappearance.