Published - Aug 13 2008 05:46PM EDT | AP
By ANDREW DeMILLO - Associated Press Writer
A man barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters and opened fire Wednesday, fatally shooting the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed the suspect after a 30-mile chase.
Police said they don't know the motive for the 51-year-old suspect, whose name has not been released.
They said Chairman Bill Gwatney, 49, died four hours later at University Hospital in Little Rock after the midday shooting near the state Capitol.
Witnesses said the gunman entered the party offices shortly beforenoon and said he wanted to see Gwatney about volunteering. Partyofficials said the man forced his way into Gwatney's office and firedthree shots, then fled in a blue truck.
"He said he wasinterested in volunteering, but that was obviously a lie," said17-year-old party volunteer Sam Higginbotham. He said the man thenpushed past employees to reach the chairman's office, where he firedthree times.
Gwatney, a former state senator and a Hillary RodhamClinton superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this monthin Denver, had served 10 years as a state senator.
Clinton andher husband, former President Bill Clinton, issued a statement callingthe 49-year-old Gwatney "not only a strong chairman of Arkansas'Democratic Party, but he is also a cherished friend and confidante."
Afterthe midday shooting, the suspect was chased into Grant County, south ofthe capital, and apprehended after being shot. Police fired at the manbut it wasn't known whether he also suffered self-inflicted injuries.
Momentsbefore the Democratic headquarters shooting, a man with a gunthreatened the building manager of the Arkansas State BaptistConvention headquarters seven blocks east. It wasn't known if theincidents were related.
Dan Jordan, the denomination's businessmanager, said the building manager asked the man what was wrong andthat he said "I lost my job."
The state Capitol was locked down for about an hour until police gotword the shooter had been captured, said Arkansas State Capitol policeSgt. Charlie Brice.
Karen Ray, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas, sent her workers home early "out of an abundance of caution."
"Ourhearts go out to everyone at the Democratic headquarters. What atragedy," Ray said. "This is just a very upsetting, troubling and scarything for our staff as well."
An impromptu vigil at University Hospital drew Gov. Mike Beebe and a number of state legislators who had worked with Gwatney.
HouseMajority Leader Steve Harrelson was at the state Capitol for a newsconference on crime and that he didn't know of anyone who would want toharm Gwatney.
"You never think of something like this happening here in Arkansas," Harrelson said.
SarahLee, a sales clerk at a flower shop across street from the partyheadquarters, said that around noon Gwatney's secretary ran into theshop and asked someone to call 911.
Lee said the secretary toldher the man had come into the party's office and asked to speak withGwatney. When the secretary said she wouldn't allow him to meet withGwatney, the man went into his office and shot him, Lee said.
FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said his agency was assisting in the investigation but could not offer any details.
LastNovember, a distraught man wearing what appeared to be a bomb walkedinto a Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire and demanded to speakto the candidate about access to mental health care. A hostage dramadragged on for nearly six hours until he peacefully surrendered.
The confrontation brought Clinton's campaign to a standstill just fiveweeks before the New Hampshire primary. Security for her was increasedas a precaution. She said she did not know the suspect.