August 14, 2008

Head of Ark. Democrats Dies in Shooting; Suspect Killed

By Donna Leinwand and Alan Gomez

Police in Little Rock are trying to figure out why a man walked into the Democratic Party headquarters there, calmly asked for the state party chairman and fatally shot him.

Police Lt. Terry Hastings said the shooter later pointed a gun inside a nearby church and then led police on a 30-mile chase that ended with officers shooting and killing him. Hastings said the shooter was Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy.

Bill Gwatney, 48, who served in the state Senate for 10 years and had planned to attend the Democratic National Convention this month as a Hillary Rodham Clinton superdelegate, died four hours after the shooting.

The Clintons called Gwatney a "cherished friend and confidant." Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a former colleague in the state Senate who later hired Gwatney, called him a "great friend."

Gwatney's father, Harold Gwatney, said his son had stopped into the office to sign thank-you notes when the shooter came in. Harold Gwatney said he saw his son before he died, and that he had been shot three times, including once in the brain.

"I'm his dad, and this ain't the way the rules are," Harold Gwatney said. "The rules are that children are supposed to bury their daddy."

Conway Police spokeswoman Sharen Carter said a Target store north of Little Rock fired Johnson on Wednesday because he wrote graffiti on a store wall and became "extremely irate." The age and address provided by Carter matched those provided by Little Rock police for its suspect.

Hastings said Johnson was not confrontational when he entered the Democratic headquarters shortly before noon. The two men introduced themselves before Johnson pulled out a handgun, Hastings said.

Johnson then walked into the nearby Arkansas Baptist State Convention offices and pointed a gun at the building manager before driving off in a blue pickup, Hastings said. Johnson told the manager "I lost my job," said Dan Jordan, a church official, according to the Associated Press.

Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said Johnson fired at officers after a long chase. Police fired back and killed Johnson.

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