Suspect in Ark. Democratic leader's shooting death also threatened Baptist Building - Word&Way

Suspect in Ark. Democratic leader’s shooting death also threatened Baptist Building

By Charlie Warren and Robert Marus  

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (ABP) — A man fitting the description of a suspect who shot and killed the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party Aug. 13 menaced employees at the nearby Arkansas Baptist State Convention headquarters shortly thereafter.

“A middle-aged white man in a white shirt entered our building at 525 West Capitol [Avenue] with a gun,” said Dan Jordan, the convention’s business manager. “The operator recognized immediately there was a threat. We have a process in place where she called the building manager immediately to respond.”

The Baptist Building is located six blocks east of the Democratic Party offices, also on Capitol Avenue, in downtown Little Rock.

Jordan said the man ran up the stairwell to the second floor of the Baptist Building with a pistol in his hand. When Kirby Martin, the convention’s 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 building.

 “He left with a gun stuck in behind his back belt,” Jordan said.

The building operator had called Little Rock police, who arrived soon after the man left the building. The gunman had 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 hot pursuit of him as soon as he drove off.

The man did not fire a shot while in the Baptist Building.

According to KTHV-TV, the local CBS affiliate, Gwatney’s assistant ran to a florist’s shop next door to the office and asked a clerk there to call 911. “I thought maybe someone had gotten hit by a car,” said Sarah Lee, the clerk. “She was just shaking really bad.” But the woman said Gwatney had been shot three times by a man who had come into the office asking to see the chairman.

 “She said she was waiting on the gentleman. He wanted to see the chairman. She tried to give him Democratic party stuff,” Lee told KTHV. “Evidently, he walked on around her and went in the office and started shooting.”

Police assailed the suspect on a high-speed chase to the bedroom community of Sheridan, about 30 miles south of downtown Little Rock, where they disabled his blue truck. At some point in the incident gunfire was exchanged, and the suspect sustained injuries that also proved fatal.

Authorities identified the suspect as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy, Ark.

Gwatney, 48, was a businessman from a prominent Arkansas family that owned a bank and, later, a group of automobile dealerships. He rose to political power as a state senator from Jacksonville, a Little Rock suburb.

Gwatney was a close friend and political ally of the Clinton family. Bill and Hillary Clinton released statements calling him a “cherished friend and confidante” and saying they were “deeply saddened” by his death.

 “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,” said Emil Turner, the state convention’s executive director. “Their lives will be marked by painful memories and unresolved questions.”

Turner urged prayer for the families of Gwatney and the gunman.

(Pictured above: The Arkansas Baptist State Convention building is just blocks from the Arkansas Democratic Party offices on Capitol Avenue in downtown Little Rock.)

Arkansas Baptist State Convention Web site