- The Washington Times - Friday, August 15, 2008

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | The man who fatally shot the chairman of the state Democratic Party had a Post-It note at home with the victim’s last name and phone number along with 14 guns, antidepressants and a last will and testament, according to court documents.

Police on Thursday were exploring possible links between the gunman Timothy Dale Johnson and the party chairman, Bill Gwatney, 48. Johnson, 50, shot Mr. Gwatney to death Wednesday and after he lost his job at a Target and was killed by officers after a 30-minute chase.

The search of Johnson’s home in Searcy also turned up two sets of keys for vehicles from car lots Mr. Gwatney owned. Johnson also had a pistol and 13 long guns.

“Right now, we don’t have any indication of motive as far as it deals with Mr. Gwatney,” police Lt. Terry Hastings said.

Police were going through a computer seized from Johnson’s home, Lt. Hastings said.



As authorities searched for answers, mourners left wreathes and flowers on the sidewalk in front of the party headquarters.

Johnson had been a good employee in a Target stockroom until Wednesday morning, a Target spokeswoman said.

According to Conway police spokeswoman Sharen Carter, Target fired Johnson before 8 a.m. Wednesday because he had written on a wall. A manager had called police because of an “extremely irate” employee, Ms. Carter said.

The graffiti, including “Target is run by dumb jocks and sorority b–,” already had been cleaned, and Johnson had left by the time officers arrived.

“This was different behavior for him,” spokeswoman Brie Heath said Thursday. “The manager asked him if he needed to talk. At that point, he turned in his badge and left the building.”

After leaving the store, Johnson drove to Little Rock and barged into Mr. Gwatney’s office and shot him multiple times.

“He said he was interested in volunteering, but that was obviously a lie,” said Sam Higginbotham, a 17-year-old volunteer at the party’s headquarters.

Police said there were no signs that the men knew each other.

After the shooting, Johnson sped away in a truck, stopped seven blocks away at the Arkansas State Baptist Convention and pointed a gun at the building’s manager, police said.

When asked what was wrong, the gunman said: “I lost my job,” according to Dan Jordan, the church group’s business manager.

Officers chased Johnson to Sheridan, 30 miles south of Little Rock. After avoiding spike strips and a roadblock, Johnson emerged from his truck and began shooting at deputies and state troopers, who returned fire.

Johnson later died at a hospital. Police found two guns in the truck.

Conway police called Mr. Johnson’s departure a termination, but Ms. Heath said the man left of his own accord.

Johnson lived along a one-lane gravel road in a one-story, ranch-style house of brown brick. He lived alone and had never been married, said Helen Mowrer, who lives next door.

Because of his position in the state party, Mr. Gwatney was a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this month in Denver. He declared his support for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton after the Arkansas primary in February but endorsed Sen. Barack Obama after Mrs. Clinton dropped out of the presidential race.

Bill and Hillary Clinton issued a statement calling Mr. Gwatney “not only a strong chairman of Arkansas’ Democratic Party, but … also a cherished friend and confidante.” He began his state Senate career just as then-Gov. Bill Clinton was leaving to become president.

Mr. Obama said: “Michelle and I are heartbroken to hear about the tragic loss of Chairman Bill Gwatney. We’re praying for his family and friends and all who worked with him and loved him.”

Democratic and Republican party officials said their offices would remain closed until Monday.

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