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Gunman Kills Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/14/us/14arkansas.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin Gunman Kills Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman By SHAILA DEWAN Published: August 13,
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2008
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      Gunman Kills Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman
      Published: August 13, 2008

      Bill Gwatney, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, was shot in his office in Little Rock Wednesday morning and died a few hours later, police officials said.
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      Bill Gwatney, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic party, in an undated handout photo.

      The officials said a single gunman fired three shots at Mr. Gwatney, a former state legislator, in the party’s headquarters a few blocks from the state Capitol and then drove away.

      Mr. Gwatney was rushed to the medical center of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, but a friend of the Gwatney family, who asked not to be identified, said doctors determined that his wounds were inoperable. He died several hours later, police officials confirmed.

      The suspect, driving a Chevrolet pickup truck, was chased south for about 25 miles by police officers and was shot after he was stopped, said Lt. Terry Hastings of the Little Rock Police Department. The suspect was airlifted to a hospital and later died of his wounds.

      The suspect was described as a white male in his 50s. About ten people were present in the party headquarters during the shooting. “The suspect turned and ran out the door,” Lieutenant Hastings said.

      Mr. Gwatney served in the state Senate from 1992 to 2002, representing the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville, and owns three car dealerships. He served as the finance chairman for Mike Beebe’s successful campaign for governor in 2006, and was appointed by Governor Beebe to head the state party.

      Matt DeCample, the governor’s press secretary, said Mr. Beebe was in an airplane when he received word of the shooting and immediately returned to Little Rock and went directly to the hospital.

      The state Capitol, less than 10 blocks from the site of the shooting, was locked down for 45 minutes until word came that the shooter had been apprehended, said Sgt. Larry Robinson of the State Capitol Police.

      Just before noon, Mr. Gwatney’s secretary burst into a florist shop across the street from the party headquarters, said Sarah Lee, a sales clerk there. “She was saying that somebody was in her office shooting a gun, and she didn’t know if he had been hit,” Ms. Lee said. “She was just screaming, so we got her behind the counter and locked the door because we didn’t know if someone was following her.”

      The secretary said a man had come into the party headquarters and insisted on seeing the chairman, whose office is the first room behind the reception desk, Ms. Lee said. When the secretary tried to put him off, by offering him bumper stickers, he walked past her into the office. “He kept saying he needed to see the chairman, and then just went around her and started shooting,” Ms. Lee said.

      Ms. Lee said the secretary, who had lost her shoes during her flight and entered the store barefoot, repeatedly recited a description of the man: khaki pants, white shirt, silver-gray hair, late 40s. “She said, ‘He didn’t scare me, he was puzzling to me for some reason and I was trying to get rid of him.’ ”

      The gunman fired three shots, the secretary told Ms. Lee, and then left, heading up the street toward the Capitol and getting into a blue truck. Other employees fled the building, with one running all the way to the capitol in an attempt to alert security.

      Senator Hillary Clinton, along with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, issued a joint statement mourning Mr. Gwatney’s death.

      “We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away,” the statement said. “His leadership and commitment to Arkansas and this country have always inspired us and those who had the opportunity to know him. Our prayers are with his family during this time.”
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