Democratic State Party Chairman Killed
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters yesterday and fatally shot the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed the suspect after a 30-mile chase.
Police identified the suspect as 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson of Searcy, a town about 50 miles northeast of Little Rock. They didn’t know a motive. However, moments after the shooting, Johnson pointed a handgun at a worker at the nearby Arkansas Baptist headquarters. An official there said he told the worker, “I lost my job.”
Chairman Bill Gwatney died four hours after the shooting. The 48-year-old former state senator had been planning to travel to the Democratic National Convention later this month as a superdelegate. He had backed Senator Clinton but endorsed Senator Obama after she dropped out of the race.
Mrs. Clinton and her husband, President Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, issued a statement saying Gwatney was “not only a strong chairman of Arkansas’ Democratic Party, but … also a cherished friend and confidant.”
Witnesses said the gunman entered the party offices shortly before noon and said he wanted to see Gwatney.
“He said he was interested in volunteering, but that was obviously a lie,” said 17-year-old party volunteer Sam Higginbotham. He said that when the suspect was refused a meeting with Gwatney, he pushed past employees to reach the chairman’s office.
A Little Rock police spokesman, Lieutenant Terry Hastings, said the suspect and Gwatney introduced themselves to one another, at which time the suspect “pulled out a handgun and shot Gwatney several times.” Mr. Hastings didn’t say what the two discussed, but said their discussion was not a heated one.
Police said after leaving the office, the suspect pointed a gun at a worker at the Baptist headquarters seven blocks away. When asked what was wrong, the man said, “I lost my job,” the group’s business manager, Dan Jordan, said.
After the suspect avoided spike strips and a roadblock along U.S. 167 near Sheridan, police rammed his car, spinning it, the Grant County Sheriff, Lance Huey, said. He got out of his truck and began shooting, and state police and sheriff’s deputies fired back, striking him several times, he said.
Mr. Hastings said investigators found at least two handguns in the suspect’s truck.
There was a busy signal last night at a phone number listed under Johnson’s name. Little Rock police said they could find no criminal record for him.
The state Capitol was locked down for about an hour until police got word the gunman had been captured, the Arkansas State Capitol police Sergeant, Charlie Brice, said.
Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat who served with Gwatney in the state Senate, had been on a flight to Springdale in northwestern Arkansas. He returned to Little Rock and joined an impromptu vigil at University Hospital after what he called a “shocking and senseless attack.” Gwatney had been Mr. Beebe’s finance chairman during the governor’s 2006 campaign.