Guns, will found at AK gunman's house

August 14, 2008 5:52:25 PM PDT
The killer of Arkansas' Democratic Party chairman had written his victim's name on a Post-It note and had two sets of car keys from his victim's car dealership, but links between the men and a motive for the slaying remained a mystery to investigators Thursday. Police said Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, also owned at least 16 guns, had antidepressant pills and made out a will before shooting Bill Gwatney on Wednesday at party headquarters in Little Rock. He had driven there more than 30 miles after losing his job at a Target store over some graffiti written on a store wall.

The name "Gwatney" and a telephone number were written on a Post-It note found in Johnson's home, police said. They wouldn't say whether the number matched the Democratic headquarters or a Gwatney-owned car dealership, if either.

"Those are things we're investigating. Right now we don't have any indication of motive as far as it deals with Mr. Gwatney," Little Rock police Lt. Terry Hastings said.

After Johnson was killed in a shootout with police, officers found two guns in his pickup truck. Court documents show officers searching Johnson's home found 13 long guns, a pistol and a prescription antidepressant. Police also found a computer there and were going through it, Hastings said.

Until Wednesday morning, when he wrote profanity-laced graffiti on a store wall and was questioned by supervisors, Johnson had been a good employee in a stockroom, Target spokeswoman Brie Heath said Thursday.

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

But his behavior had been alarming enough that the company had called police about it.

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, Carter said. The graffiti, including "Target is run by dumb jocks and sorority w-----," had already been cleaned and Johnson had left by the time officers arrived.

While Conway police called Johnson's departure a termination, Heath said the man left of his own accord. "When he left yesterday, he voluntarily left. We asked him `What's going on? Do you want to talk about something?' It was, 'Let's talk.' It was not about termination," Heath said.

Thursday morning, bouquets and wreaths lined the walkway outside the locked doors of the party headquarters. "We will miss you Senator Gwatney," said one note among the flowers. Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said Thursday that he was hopeful Gwatney could be honored somehow at this month's party convention in Denver.

Meanwhile, Johnson's neighbors were stunned that the same man who tilled in a garden behind his home and walked his beagle to the end of the one-lane road each day could be a killer.

"Honestly, it was a shocker," said Helen Mowrer, 73. "You don't ever know about people, but that's the last thing in the world I would have ever considered."

Johnson's father, a World War II veteran, worked for years as a farmer before moving near Searcy with his wife, Mathel, and their three daughters. Johnson moved into his parents' single-story ranch home after his father's death in 2006.

Ripe red tomatoes sat on the two steps leading up to a sliding glass door at the back of Johnson's home, likely picked from the tomato stalks still up among his row of vegetables and flowers in the back. Sunflowers, some towering more than six feet, wilted down under the August sun.

Neighbor Jeannie Liles said Johnson would bring tomatoes, squash and peppers by their house next door. When Liles first moved in, she kept her grandchildren back as a precaution. But soon, the children scurried over to his large backyard, often throwing balls back and forth with Johnson.

Sometimes, Johnson would even come in her yard to pick up fallen tree limbs after strong winds tore through the pastures surrounding their small neighborhood.

"He was not a person of a lot of words, but he did carry on conversations," said Liles, 60.

Johnson worked an overnight shift at Target store, meaning he would leave late in the evening for work and return home around noon. He would wake up in the afternoon to leash up and walk his dog, often taking Liles' two dogs with him for the stroll.

If something troubled Johnson, his neighbors couldn't tell. The only hint came the day before the shooting, when Liles' husband saw a paper target set up in the backyard. They dismissed it as practice for the upcoming bow hunting season in Arkansas.

Johnson was a member of the Cleburne County Shooting Club. Ken Buster, a former club secretary, said Johnson was quiet and that he never heard him talk politics. Buster described Johnson as "average to subaverage" with a gun.

"He would never impress anybody with his shooting skills," Buster said.

Neighbors said they never saw Johnson with any of the firearms he owned.

"Something bad must have happened," Liles said. "He must have just snapped."

Thursday, his young beagle remained in a wire-fence pen in the backyard, crying out occasionally at passers-by.


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