LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–A gunman shot Arkansas Democratic Party chairman Bill Gwatney at the state party’s headquarters in Little Rock at about 11:50 a.m. Aug. 13. Fleeing the scene, the suspect drove to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention building a few blocks east of Democratic headquarters, then after a police chase of more than 30 miles, was killed in an exchange of gunfire with officers.
Democratic leader Gwatney died at a local hospital of the three gunshot wounds to his chest.
Dan Jordan, business manager for the Arkansas convention, said, “A middle-aged white man in a white shirt entered our building at 525 W. Capitol with a gun. The operator recognized immediately there was a threat. We have a process in place where she called the building manager immediately to respond.”
The gunman ran up a stairwell to the second floor of the Baptist building with a pistol in his hand, Jordan recounted. When Kirby Martin, the building manager, confronted him, the man cocked the gun and pointed it at Martin.
Martin asked what was wrong and the man said he had lost his job. Martin was able to flee the threat and the gunman went down another stairway and out the front door of the Baptist building. The man did not fire a shot while in the Baptist building.
“He left with a gun stuck in behind his back belt,” Jordan said.
The building operator had called the police, who arrived soon after the man left the building. The gunman jumped into a blue pickup truck on Arch Street at the side entrance of the building and sped away. Jordan said the police were in pursuit of him as soon as he drove off.
The police chase ended in gunfire near Sheridan, south of Little Rock, during which the suspect was shot and killed. The gunman later was identified as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy, Ark. News reports indicated he had been fired from his job at a Target store in Conway the morning of the shooting.
News reports indicated Johnson walked into the state Democratic headquarters and fired three shots into Gwatney’s chest.
Emil Turner, executive director of the Arkansas convention, said, “The details and stories will be told for days to come through the local and national media, but the greater story involves the emotional and spiritual needs of those directly affected by these events. Their lives will be marked by painful memories and unresolved questions.”
Turner urged prayer for the Gwatney and Johnson families.
Charlie Warren is editor of the Arkansas Baptist News (www.arkansasbaptist.org), newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.