- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 14, 2008

The chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party was shot and mortally wounded by a lone gunman on Wednesday who burst into the party’s Little Rock headquarters.

Bill Gwatney, a former state legislator and a superdelegate for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, died four hours after the late-morning shooting, which occurred just a few blocks from the state Capitol.

Little Rock Police Lt. Terry Hastings said the gunman fired three shots at Mr. Gwatney, hitting him in the upper body, and then fled the building. He said nine or 10 other people were in the office at the time but no one else was injured.

Lt. Hastings identified the suspect as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy, Ark.

No motive for the shooting was known, but police told reporters that moments after the shooting, Mr. Johnson pointed a handgun at the building manager at the nearby headquarters of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention headquarters.

Dan Jordan, a Baptist convention official, said he told the manager “I lost my job.”

Mr. Gwatney, 49, was rushed to the medical center of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where he later was pronounced dead.

The police spokesman said Little Rock police officers chased the suspect south from the city for about 25 miles, where he was stopped and fatally shot by the officers during an exchange of gunfire.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away,” former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Clinton said in a statement. “His leadership and commitment to Arkansas and this country have always inspired us and those who had the opportunity to know him. Our prayers are with his family during this time.”

The gunman drove his Chevrolet pickup to the party headquarters, walked in, asked to see the chairman and then took aim at Mr. Gwatney, Lt. Hastings said. He opened fire, then “turned and ran out the door,” the police spokesman said.

Police were alerted to the shooting by a 911 emergency call from Mr. Gwatney’s secretary, who had run to a nearby florist shop. A witness there heard her tell police: “Help, our chairman’s been shot,” the Arkansas Times reported.

Mr. Gwatney served in the Arkansas state Senate from 1992 to 2002, representing the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville. He served as the finance chairman for Mike Beebe’s successful campaign for governor in 2006. He was then appointed by Mr. Beebe to head the state party.

“Arkansas has lost a great son, and I have lost a great friend. There is deep pain in Arkansas tonight because of the sheer number of people who knew, respected and loved Bill Gwatney,” Mr. Beebe said.

The state Capitol was locked down for 45 minutes until after the gunman’s capture, said Sgt. Larry Robinson of the State Capitol Police.

The killing left Arkansas Democrats in shock less than two weeks before the party’s national convention in Denver.

“This senseless tragedy comes as a shock to all of us,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement issued before Mr. Gwatney was pronounced dead. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chairman Gwatney and his family.”

Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the tragedy.

Mr. Gwatney, as one of the party’s nearly 800 so-called superdelegates, could have voted as he wished at the convention.

The shooting was the second violent attack in the past nine months in which Democratic Party offices were targeted. In November, a man who said he had a bomb took over Mrs. Clinton’s campaign office in New Hampshire and held five people hostage for more than five hours before surrendering.



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