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5-years ago today: Gunman kills Democratic Party chairman, threatens ABSC staffer 

From the archives of the Arkansas Baptist News:

LITTLE ROCK – A gunman shot Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney three times at the State Democratic Party Headquarters in Little Rock at about 11:50 a.m. Aug. 13. Gwatney later died in a local hospital.

Fleeing the scene, the suspect went to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) building just a few blocks east of Democratic Headquarters.

“A middle-aged white man in a white shirt entered our building at 525 W. Capitol with a gun,” Dan Jordan, ABSC business manager, told news media. “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 the stairwell to the second floor of the Baptist building, according to Jordan. When Kirby Martin, ABSC building manager, confronted him, the man cocked the gun and pointed it at Martin.

Martin was able to flee the threat, but a few minutes later found the man again and asked him what was wrong. The man said he had lost his job.

The gunman and Martin took the elevator down to the first floor and the gunman left through the front door of the 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 St., across from 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.

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. News reports indicated he had been fired from his job at a Target store in Conway.

Gwatney, 48, was transported to a local hospital, where he died just before 4 p.m.

News reports indicated Johnson walked into the state Democratic headquarters and fired three shots into Gwatney’s chest.

“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, ABSC executive director. “Their lives will be marked by painful memories and unresolved questions.”

Turner urged prayer for the Gwatney family and Johnson’s family.

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