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Cops: Maryland Publisher Merrill Killed Self on Boat With Shotgun

Prominent publisher and former diplomat Philip Merrill, whose body was recovered from the Chesapeake Bay on Monday after he disappeared while sailing alone, apparently committed suicide, his family said Tuesday night.

Merrill, 72, an experienced sailor, went missing earlier this month when his sailboat was discovered empty in the Chesapeake Bay with the engine still running.

"During the course of the (Maryland Department of Natural Resources police) investigation into the disappearance of Phil, we have come to learn that the events that occurred on June 10 were in all likelihood the result of his own efforts to take his life," Merrill's family said in a statement late Tuesday. "We were shocked at the news and found it very difficult to accept."

The family issued the statement after media inquiries following a broadcast report that Merrill had ended his life.

WBAL-TV's Jayne Miller, citing "a source familiar with the investigation," reported on the station's 6 p.m. broadcast that Merrill suffered wounds from a shotgun that were apparently self-inflicted.

Miller also said that the man who found Merrill's empty boat "reportedly found blood on board."

A DNR police spokesman did not return repeated calls for comment.

Merrill's body was taken to the medical examiner's office in Baltimore, where an autopsy was to be performed. The results of that procedure could not be obtained late Tuesday.

After Merrill was reported missing, a massive search by local, state and federal agencies, lasting 10 days, was undertaken. Aircraft, boats and sonar equipment scoured more than 300 square miles of water from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge south to Plum Point off the Calvert County coast line.

Merrill was chairman of the board of Annapolis-based Capital-Gazette Communications Inc., which publishes Washingtonian magazine, The Capital and five other Maryland newspapers.

The family's statement discussed his health. "Phil underwent significant heart surgery over a year ago and was on several medications as a result of it. Over the past four weeks, we observed that his spirit had dimmed. ... He was fatigued and unmotivated, a clear departure from his lifelong optimistic outlook and irrepressible spirit." The statement said his family, which includes his wife, Eleanor, and three grown children, discussed their concerns with Merrill's physician.

"Unfortunately, with the same resolve and single-mindedness that made him so effective as an executive, he appears to have made his decision to carry out his actions with tragic consequences," the statement said.

Merrill had a broad career in public and private service. He was chairman of the board of Annapolis-based Capital-Gazette Communications Inc., which publishes Washingtonian magazine, The Capital and five other Maryland newspapers.

Merrill took leave from his publishing duties in December 2002, when he was sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney as president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. He stepped down when his term expired in July.

He served as assistant secretary-general of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992. Merrill has represented the United States in negotiations on the Law of the Sea Conference, the International Telecommunications Union and various disarmament and exchange agreements with the former Soviet Union. He was a former special assistant to the Deputy Secretary of State and has worked in the White House on national security affairs.

The college of journalism at the University of Maryland was named for him, as was the headquarters of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation -- both after multimillion-dollar donations.

A memorial service for Merrill, which was arranged before his body was found, will take place Thursday at 2 p.m. at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium in Washington.