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Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Killed


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A man barged into the Arkansas
Democratic headquarters Wednesday 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 Hillary Rodham Clinton but endorsed Barack Obama
after she dropped out of the race.
Clinton and her husband, former President and former Arkansas
Gov. Bill Clinton, 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.
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.
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" said Dan
Jordan, the group's business manager.
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.
There was a busy signal Wednesday 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, 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 an impromptu vigil
at University Hospital after what he called a "shocking and
senseless attack." Gwatney had been Beebe's finance chairman
during the governor's 2006 campaign.
"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," Beebe said.
Karen Ray, executive director of the Republican Party of
Arkansas, sent her workers home early "out of an abundance of
caution."
"Our hearts go out to everyone at the Democratic headquarters.
What a tragedy," Ray said. "This is just a very upsetting,
troubling and scary thing for our staff as well."
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 meet with Gwatney, the man went into
his office and shot him, Lee said.
Last November, a distraught man wearing what appeared to be a
bomb walked into a Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire and
demanded to speak to the candidate about access to mental health
care. A hostage drama dragged on for nearly six hours until he
peacefully surrendered.
The confrontation brought Clinton's campaign to a standstill
just five weeks before the New Hampshire primary. Security for her
was increased as a precaution. She said she did not know the
suspect.


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