Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- The Richland County Coroner says South Carolina Hospitality Association President Tom Sponseller has been found dead, and appears to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
His body was found in a parking garage at 1122 Lady Street just before 11 a.m. Tuesday. CPD says Sponseller was found in a double enclosed room at the lower level parking garage.
"My heart goes out to his family, this is very sad," said Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott.
Scott says he's not sure how Sponseller accessed the room, which police had to get a maintenance worker to open. The area did not receive normal foot traffic in the garage.
The chief says a 9mm handgun was found near his body. Scott says a note was found in his office, but he did not elaborate on precisely what the note said. However, he did acknowledge the note referenced the ongoing investigation into missing money within the Hospitality Association.
He did say that the note led them to Tuesday's more detailed search.
"I'm not happy with this, we did search this (parking garage multiple times), Scott said.
Scott says he's not disappointed in his department's efforts; he said he's upset that it took this long to reach a resolution.
Scott says cadaver dogs were even used in the search.
"I'm disappointed the family had to go through this many days of grief," Scott said.
"We always want to do better."
Sponseller's family reported him missing on February 18th after they say he did not return home from work.
The coroner's office says further investigation will be done to determine the official cause of death. As well, Columbia Police say they are looking into the reasons why he may have taken his life.
"Our board and staff are profoundly saddened by the announcement of Tom Sponseller's death," said SC Hospitality Association Board Chairman Rick Erwin in a statement. "I do not have the words to convey the sadness of losing our leader and friend.
"Utmost in our hearts and minds are Tom's wife and family, who were his pride and joy. They came first in everything he did. Our prayers are with them in this tragic hour.
"Professionally, Tom in many ways was the face of South Carolina's $14 billion tourism industry. He guided our industry through good times and bad, quietly working for the good of every person employed in the industry.
"The number of jobs he helped create in South Carolina through his work with the Legislature and many governors cannot be estimated. Suffice it to say South Carolina's economy is stronger, and tourism's future brighter, because of his dedication."
With news of the apparent suicide, News19 feels it's important to let people who are considering taking their life know of resources that can help. In Columbia, people can call the Columbia Area Mental Health Center 803-898-8888 and/or the national suicide prevention lifeline number 1-800-273-8255. You can also visit these website: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and www.afsp.org