August 14, 2008
Motive Unclear in Democrat’s Killing
By ANDREW DEMILLO
By Andrew DeMillo
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters and opened fire Wednesday, fatally shooting the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed the man after a 30-mile chase.
Police said they don't know the motive of the suspect, who they described as about 50 years old but whose name has not been released. However, they said that moments after the shooting, he pointed a handgun at the building manager at the nearby the Arkansas Baptist headquarters. He told the manager "I lost my job," said Dan Jordan, a Baptist convention official.
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 Hillary Clinton superdelegate.
Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, issued a statement saying Gwatney was "not only a strong chairman of Arkansas' Democratic Party, but he is also a cherished friend and confidante."
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.
Little Rock police spokesman Lt. 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." Hastings didn't say what the two discussed but said their discussion was not a heated one.
After the suspect avoided spike strips and a roadblock along U.S. 167 near Sheridan, police rammed his car, spinning it, said Grant County Sheriff Lance Huey. He got out of his truck and began shooting, and state police and sheriff's deputies fired back, striking him several times, he said.
Hastings said investigators found at least two handguns in the suspect's truck.
The Capitol was locked down for about an hour until police got word the man had been captured, said Arkansas State Capitol police Sgt. Charlie Brice.
Gov. 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 a vigil at University Hospital.
"Arkansas has lost a great son, and I have lost a great friend ," Beebe said.
State Rep. Janet Johnson started to cry when she talked about Gwatney.
"This is like something you would see in New York or Pennsylvania or California, but not here," Johnson said.
House Majority Leader Steve Harrelson was at the state Capitol for a news conference on crime and said he didn't know of anyone who would want to harm Gwatney.
Sarah Lee, a sales clerk at a flower shop across street from the party headquarters, said that around noon Gwatney's secretary ran into the shop and asked someone to call 911.
Lee said the secretary told her the man had come into the party's office and asked to speak with Gwatney. When the secretary said she wouldn't allow him to , the man went in and shot him, Lee said.
Originally published by BY ANDREW DEMILLO.
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