Details Emerge on Shooting at Democratic Arkansas HQ

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A gunman barged into the Arkansas Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday and shot the state party chairman, critically wounding him, authorities and party officials said.

The unidentified man was later wounded after a chase and taken into police custody, authorities said.

The gunman demanded to speak to the party chairman, Bill Gwatney, and fired three shots at the office near the state Capitol.

“He came in and went into this office and started shooting,” police Lt. Terry Hastings told reporters near the party headquarters.

The victim was in critical condition, Hastings said. He didn’t identify him, but Democratic Party officials confirmed the victim was Gwatney, a former state senator.

The suspect was chased some 30 miles, into Grant County, and apprehended after being shot, the police spokesman said. The suspect’s condition and motive were not known. It wasn’t immediately known whether that shot was self-inflicted.

Millie McLain, a reporter for the Sheridan Headlight newspaper, said the suspect’s blue truck was turned sideways along a highway northeast of Sheridan. Emergency crews were loading the man onto a Med-Flight helicopter.

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

Sarah Lee, a sales clerk at a flower shop across street from the party headquarters, said that Gwatney’s secretary ran into the shop around noon and asked someone to call 911.

Lee said the secretary told her the man had come into the party’s office and asked to speak with Gwatney. When the secretary said she wouldn’t allow that, the man went into his office and shot him, Lee said.

She said the secretary described him as a white man in his 40s and said he drove off in a blue truck.

Moments before the Democratic headquarters shooting, a man with a gun had threatened an employee at that Arkansas State Baptist Convention headquarters seven blocks east, an official there said.

Dan Jordan, the Baptist group’s business manager, said a man pointed a gun at another official there, and when asked what was wrong, the man said, “I lost my job.” Jordan said he didn’t know if it was the same suspect.

FBI spokesman Steve Frazier said his agency was assisting in the investigation but could not offer any details.

Party director Bruce Sinclair and House Majority Leader Steve Harrelson, a Democrat, identified Gwatney as the victim.

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who served with Gwatney in the Legislature, had been on a flight to Springdale in northwestern Arkansas but returned to the Capitol after hearing about the shooting, Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.

Karen Ray, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas, sent her workers home early “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Our hearts go out to everyone at the Democratic headquarters. What a tragedy,” Ray said. “This is just a very upsetting, troubling and scary thing for our staff as well.”

Gwatney, who owns three GM car dealerships in Pulaski County, served 10 years in the state Senate. Gwatney was Beebe’s finance chairman during Beebe’s run for governor in 2006.

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