PARIS — Thomas Johnston was identified by authorities Thursday as the sole suspect in a sexual assault in Newry last month.
The assault, which was reported very early April 2 by a woman who was being treated at Bridgton Hospital, occurred at a home in Newry. Johnston, a popular meteorologist with WCSH TV in Portland, was in town that weekend to emcee Sunday River ski resort’s Springfest.
The assault happened at about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 1.
According to police, the victim did not know Johnston before the attack. Police have declined to release her age or address to protect her privacy.
Johnston, 46, was reported missing by family on Monday, April 3. His body was found in a wooded area of Auburn later that week.
According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, Johnston died of hypothermia after he cut his wrists. The cause of death was determined to be suicide. His obituary listed Johnston’s residence as Auburn, although he had been living in Old Orchard Beach.
Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant and other officers from the county department held a press conference at their office Thursday noon to announce the findings of the investigation.
According to Gallant, Johnston was the “one and only” suspect from the start of the investigation. He was identified by the victim, by witnesses and by informants, he said.
The victim was in Newry with a group of friends to attend the Springfest event. On Saturday afternoon, the victim arrived in Newry around 2 p.m. for the festival. She went to the festival and returned to the house around 6 p.m. and decided to take a nap, according to the police report.
The victim told police that she woke up when someone opened the bedroom door, which is when she realized someone was in the bed with her. She recognized Johnston.
Then, she told police, “he quickly got out of the bed, put his clothes on and left the residence.” At that point, the victim said she realized her clothes had been taken off.
Johnston was confronted by someone else in the house and, according to that witness, Johnston “ran out to his car and left in a hurry.”
The victim said that on her ride home to Bridgton, she spoke about the incident with her friend and decided to get a sexual assault examination at Bridgton Hospital.
Shortly after, a Sheriff’s Office deputy received the sexual assault complaint and drove to the hospital to speak with the victim and her friend.
On the morning of April 2, police went to the residence where the assault had occurred and spoke with the owner, who gave permission for police to search the residence for evidence. The owner denied seeing or hearing anything, but confirmed that Johnston was at the residence.
According to the report, Johnston was reported missing on the morning of April 3.
Cpl. Scott Jarrett said at that time that police had pinged Johnston’s phone, which showed that he was in the area of Danville Corner Road in Auburn.
At 5 p.m. April 6, three days after Johnston had been reported missing, the Auburn Police Department received a call stating Johnston’s vehicle had been located on Cascade Road in Auburn, and that it had been there for several days.
Police searched a wooded area nearby and found Johnston’s body, according to the report. Police discovered that Johnston had cut his wrists with a razor blade, causing him to lose a significant amount of blood.
They also stated that it appeared Johnston had lost consciousness at some point and died from exposure.
After his body was transported to the Medical Examiner’s Office for an autopsy, police searched his vehicle and were unable to find “a suicide note or anything of any value to our respective investigations,” according to the report.
Later on April 7, Auburn Det. Nate Westleigh said that the Auburn Police Department received a call from a Mechanic Falls store that said Johnston had been there on Sunday, April 2 to purchase razor blades.
On April 10, police spoke with somebody who knew Johnston who said that on early Sunday morning, she received a few text messages from Johnston, one of which “looked like hands praying.” It was the last that she heard from Johnston, according to the police report.
When she tried contacting Johnston on Monday, April 3, and he still failed to respond, she filed the missing person’s report.
According to the police report, video footage showed Johnston still in Newry from the night of April 1 to the early morning hours of April 2.
Police stated that at some point early Sunday morning, hours after the assault, Johnston stopped at a restaurant in Newry, where he “had some food and performed a weather skit for one of the patrons.”
The skit was recorded by customers and was forwarded to the police as evidence.
According to Gallant, if Johnston were still alive he would have been charged with felony gross sexual assault.
Johnston’s name has been publicly associated with this case since April 7 after a radio station and later several web broadcasters offered theories, based on an Oxford County incident report, that Johnston was the suspect in this case. That incident report, noting the time and place of the assault, and the names of the officers who responded, also noted “the suspect fled the scene and was later reported as a missing person.”
WGAN offered its theory that since Johnston was the only missing person reported in Oxford County on the same weekend of the assault, he was the most likely suspect. Two additional web reports and a joint press release issued by the Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine made the same connection, but police declined to release any information until the criminal investigation was complete.