The body of a hospitality lobbyist missing since last Saturday has been found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Columbia police say.
Speaking at a press conference, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said S.C. Hospitality Association President Tom Sponseller shot himself in a “room behind a room” in the parking garage at 1122 Lady St.
“It’s very devastating,” said Rick Patel, the vice chairman of the association.
Sponseller’s body was found just before 11 a.m. today after investigators were able to gain access to the previously unsearched room at the building, Scott said. Sponseller was reported missing by his family Feb. 18.
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“I’m really disappointed the family had to go through this many days of grief,” Scott said.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Sponseller died from a gunshot wound to the head from a 9-millimeter handgun. An autopsy will be performed, Watts said.
Scott said co-workers alerted investigators to a note they found in his office this morning. Specific details of the note were not discussed, but Scott said that it referenced a federal investigation into money missing from the Hospitality Association’s coffers. The organization’s accounting director was named as a person of interest in that investigation, officials said last week.
Both the parking garage and Sponseller’s office had been previously searched many times, Scott said. The department even used dogs trained to find cadavers, but they were unable to find the body. Scott said investigators could not gain access to the room until a new key was made to access the area.
“You would have to know where the room is to go to the room,” Scott said.
The state House of Representatives held a silent prayer for Sponseller’s family earlier today.