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Report: Schweich believed he was target of smears prior to death

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KTVI) - Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich died Thursday as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 54.

Clayton Police Chief Kevin Murphy said officers were called to the auditor's home in the 7100 block of Wydown Boulevard just before 9:50 a.m. for a reported gunshot victim.They found Schweich on the floor of his residence with a single bullet wound. Chief Murphy would not disclose where the gunshot wound occurred.

Schweich was rushed to Barnes Jewish Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

MORE: Missourians express sorrow over Schweich's death on social media

Chief Murphy confirmed a family member was at the house at the time of the shooting.

While the investigation is ongoing and a full autopsy is conducted, the chief said police have little doubt this was a suicide. A handgun was recovered from the home.

Murphy did not know if a note was found in Schweich's home.

According to the Associated Press, Schweich contacted them and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier in the day to invite reporters from both entities to his home. It is unclear exactly what Schweich wanted to discuss with the media. However, the Post-Dispatch reported the interview would delve into Schweich's belief that he was the target of a smear campaign by a top GOP official in the state.

Tony Messenger, editorial page editor for the Post-Dispatch, posted a statement in the story to disclose the content of his conversations with the late auditor. Schweich allegedly told Messenger that John Hancock, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, had spread misinformation by saying Schweich was Jewish.

Kevin McDermott, a political reporter for the Post-Dispatch said Schweich had not only reached out to the newspaper, but had even contacted the Anti-Defamation League, and also called Senator Roy Blunt.

‘‘We don't know if that was a contributing factor to this, but it was something that was very much on his mind today,” McDermott said.

For the record, Schweich was a member of The Church of St. Michael & St. George, an Episcopal congregation in Clayton. For his part, Hancock denies any accusations of anti-Semitism or bigotry.

MORE: Missouri lawmakers hold prayer vigil for Schweich

The sadness felt in Jefferson City extended from the head of state government to the average citizen, with many expressing warm feelings for Tom Schweich’s dedication to the Show Me State, as well as condolences to his family.

Jefferson City resident Alan Mudd met Schweich on a number of occasions. He described the late auditor as a ''very top-notch individual."

''It’s a total shock. Very impressive gentleman, did an outstanding job…this is just out of the blue, a total shock,” he said.

Veteran KMOX radio reporter Phill Brooks has covered state politics for decades.

''When something like this happens it has a pretty profound effect on folks in both parties," he said. ''I have seen an awful lot of sadness statewide, in state elected officials today in this building.”

Brooks knew something might be wrong when Schweich did not show up at his office Thursday morning.

“Tom Schweich was almost a workaholic. He was always here and that he wasn’t here today began to raises some eyebrows. It did for me,” he said.

Schweich’s death marks the second time in history a statewide elected official has taken his own life, Brooks said. The last time it happened was in 1844.

Governor Jay Nixon released a statement, saying in part:

From his courageous work to combat the illegal drug trade abroad in Afghanistan, to his tireless efforts to protect the interests of taxpayers here in Missouri, Tom Schweich’s exceptional intellect and unwavering dedication to public service left a legacy that will endure for many years to come.

Five years ago, Schweich, a Republican, decided to run for Missouri State Auditor at the urging of Lt. Gov. Peter Kender and political consultant David Barklage.

‘‘Politics is such a tough business and it just is something that weighs down, day in and day out, and I think that I don't know that we will ever know,” Barklage said. ‘‘But I'd rather focus on the fact of what he lived for and what caused him to get up every day to do what he did and to do the right thing and that's really the focus of where we should go going forward."

Schweich was re-elected to a second, four-year term last November. He announced in January that he was seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2016.

Schweich graduated from Clayton High School, Yale University in 1982, and the Harvard University School of Law in 1985. He is survived by his wife and their two children.