Gunman kills Arkansas Dem. Party chairman

August 13, 2008 5:51:18 PM PDT
A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters and opened fire, fatally shooting the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup truck. Police later shot and killed the suspect after a 30-mile chase. Little Rock police spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings identified the suspect as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy. Police said they don't know a motive. 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 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 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.

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 a highway 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.

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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