UPDATED: Bill Gwatney Dead After Shooting at State Democratic Party HQ

UPDATED: Bill Gwatney Dead After Shooting at State Democratic Party HQ
Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman and former state Senator Bill Gwatney died after being shot at the party's headquarters, according to police.

(Note: Complete coverage of Bill Gwatney's death at ArkansasBusiness.com/Bill-Gwatney.) 

UPDATE: Police have officially identified the shooter as 50-year-old Timothy Dale Johnson.


Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman and former state Senator Bill Gwatney of Jacksonville died after being shot at the party's headquarters just before noon on Wednesday, Little Rock Police officials said a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

LRPD spokesman Lt. Terry Hastings said Gwatney died at 3:59 p.m. at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital.

Click here for more on Gwatney's life in politics and business.  And click here for reaction to the shooting and Gwatney's death.

Also dead, the gunman who allegedly shot him, a 50-year-old white male who police chased into Sheridan and Grant County and shot.

Hastings said police have tentatively identified the suspect but did not name him. Hastings said the suspect was not an employee of Gwatney's auto dealerships, but said that he is from Arkansas.

The suspect died at Baptist Medical Center, Hastings said. State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told ArkansasBusiness.com earlier that the alleged gunman was airlifted from the scene in Sheridan after being shot.

Hastings said about nine or 10 people were in the Democratic Party headquarters offices at the time of the shooting. Police have been interviewing those people.

Hastings said that at about 11:49 a.m. on Wednesday, the Little Rock Police Department received a 911 call about the shooting at the state Democratic Party headquarters at 1300 W. Capitol Ave.

Hastings said the man asked to see Gwatney. When a secretary denied him entry, he pushed his way past and into Gwatney's office.

Hastings said the two shook hands, after which the unidentified man pulled a gun and shot Gwatney.

"I don't think they knew each other," Hastings said.

Hastings commented on the man's reported demeanor: "He wasn't mad," Hastings said. "He didn't ever act mad."

After the shooting, Hastings said, the man left and went to the Arkansas Baptist Convention offices, also on Capitol Avenue. Hastings said a person at followed the gunman into the facility and the gunman threatened the person at gunpoint.

Police believe the suspect's 2000 blue Dodge Dakota was parked near the convention's offices.

Searching for the suspect, police recognized the vehicle at Seventh and Arch streets and pursued him in a high-speed chase into Grant County, south of Little Rock. Police apprehended him after being shot. It also wasn't known whether the suspect's injuries were self-inflicted after a 30-mile chase.

Millie McLain, a reporter for the Sheridan Headlight newspaper, told the Associated Press earlier Wednesday that the suspect's blue truck was turned sideways along Arkansas 46 northeast of Sheridan. Emergency crews were loading the man onto a Med-Flight helicopter.

Hastings said there will likely be another news conference tomorrow.

Hastings said various law enforcement agencies have been involved in the investigation, including Little Rock Police, Arkansas State Police, Capitol Police and the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office. Sheridan Police and the Grant County Sheriff's Office were also involved.

The state Capitol was locked down for about an hour until police got word the shooter had been captured, said Arkansas State Capitol police Sgt. Charlie Brice.

FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said his agency was assisting in the investigation but could not offer any details. "We're aware of it. We're helping the state police right now," Frazier told the AP earlier Wednesday.

After the shooting, legislators working at the Capitol nearby left their offices and congregated near the Democratic headquarters on Capitol Street.

Gov. Mike Beebe was on a flight to Springdale when the shooting occurred. Beebe quickly returned to Little Rock after hearing about the shooting and was with Gwatney's family at UAMS while Gwatney was being treated.

Gwatney was Beebe's finance chairman during Beebe's run for governor in 2006.

In addition to being state Democratic Party chairman, Gwatney is also CEO of Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville. He has a background in banking, having been an executive vice president with First National Bank in Jacksonville, formerly owned by his family.

Gwatney entered the state Senate in 1993 at age 33. Arkansas Business profiled the young legislator in 1995. At the time, he was credited for sponsoring and successfully shepherding controversial any-willing-provider legislation through the Arkansas General Assembly.

Term limits ended his career in the state Legislature in 2003. During his last legislative session, he led efforts to reform state ethics rules, handle legislative redistricting and promote economic development. He was among Arkansas Business' first "40 Under 40" honorees.

Gwatney has two daughters.

(Jamie Walden and the Associated Press contributed to this story.)

Reporters at the Wednesday news conference on the shooting. (Photo: Waynette Traub)