A Fairfield man reported missing when he failed to return while rowing off Cockenoe Island Tuesday night was found dead -- from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, police said -- little more than a year after he had to be rescued when his kayak overturned in Southport Harbor.

The body of William Sapone, 61, of Hulls Farm Road was found shortly after midnight Wednesday in mud flats off Cockenoe Island after an extensive search by Fairfield police and fire units, Westport and Norwalk police, assisted by a Coast Guard vessel and helicopter, when he was reported missing about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday.

The chief state's medical examiner's office ruled Wednesday afternoon that Sapone's death was a suicide, caused by a gunshot to his head. A handgun was located during a daylight search of the area where Sapone's body was found in marshlands of Cockenoe Bay, according to Westport police. He had a permit for a .22-caliber handgun, Fairfield police confirmed.

The search for Sapone focused on waters off Cockenoe Island after his car was found at Burying Hill Beach in Westport. He often rowed several afternoon hours off South Pine Creek Beach in Fairfield, but his wife told police she could not find his car there after he failed to return home at the usual time.

Police were able to track his whereabouts via his cellphone signal to the area of Cockenoe Island, off the Westport/Norwalk shoreline. Fairfield police later located the man's rowing scull beached on the island. His identification and phone were found in the boat, police said.

Officers from Fairfield and Westport then searched the island by foot and found Sapone's body face down a short distance away, according to the report.

Sapone, a patent and intellectual property lawyer who had served on several town building committees in Fairfield, was rescued April 3, 2014, when his kayak overturned in Southport Harbor. The incident was spotted by a woman on shore, Landon Storrs, who reported the struggling boater to emergency personnel as well as to the nearby Pequot Yacht Club. A yacht club employee, Travis Herman, took one of the club's boats out the to overturned kayak and grabbed Sapone's tee shirt and pulled him into the boat. "Once I got him in the boat, I threw my jacket on him and floored it back," he recounted the incident.

Herman returned to the dock just as emergency crews were preparing to launch a Fire Department boat to assist with the rescue.

In that incident, Sapone was treated at Bridgeport Hospital for hypothermia.

In a letter he later wrote to the Fairfield Citizen, Sapone wrote: "Instead of my obituary, this is my letter of thanks ... Lessons learned: Know the water temperature; if not prepared for a spill, stay off the water; check safety equipment, meaning actually use it so you know how it works and that it will work; carry ID, leave a "flight" plan so someone knows where you plan to be. This is the start of the boating season. Don't be like me. Be prepared."

Sapone most recently had been a member of the town's Penfield Pavilion Building Committee, but resigned last August after saying he could no longer support its work. He also had been chairman of the Fairfield Woods Middle School Building Committee, and a member of several other school building panels. He also had been a member of the Saugatuck Rowing Club in Westport.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau mourned Sapone's death, saying, "It's a real loss to me personally, because I considered Bill a friend, and it's a real loss to our community. He was active in so many ways, from chairing the Fairfield Woods building committee to being a member of the Penfield committee.

"He's one of those people that wasn't loud, but when he spoke, everybody listened. We're going to miss him ... I'm still in shock," Tetreau added.

James Bradley, the chairman of the Penfield Building Committee, said, "Our committee is saddened by Bill's sudden death and the loss of a citizen who was dedicated to making Fairfield a better town. His early participation on PBC, challenging options and thinking in a tough and intelligent way, got us going in the right direction. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family."

"Bill Sapone was a member and friend of the Fairfield DTC for many years," Heather Dean, the chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, said. "He served proudly on the Fairfield Woods Building Committee and most recently on the Penfield Building Committee. He was very much a hands-on-guy always helping to set up and break down our campaign headquarters or wherever else he was needed. He was deeply respected and will be missed by all."