BREAKING: Killer had Gwatney note | Arkansas Blog

BREAKING: Killer had Gwatney note

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UPDATE:

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A search warrant returned to Searcy district court today with a receipt for property taken during the search of the Searcy home of Timothy Johnson, the suspected killer of Democratic Party chair Bill Gwatney, provides the first indication that Johnson might have targeted the former senator and car dealer. (The photo of Johnson was provided by LRPD.)

According to that document, among the items seized was a note bearing Gwatney's name and two sets of car keys from Gwatney dealerships. Also 14 weapons.

Police are not discussing the product of the search. A spokesman said detectives are continuing to pore over the material. He couldn't predict whem more details would be provided. He said police still had no evidence of a link between Johnson and Gwatney.

The list of items seized: A personal computer, a bottle of prescription anti-depressants (Effexor XR); a "sticky note" bearing the word "Gwatney'" and a telephone number (LR police said they didn't know if it was Gwatney's phone number); a Smith and Wesson gun box; unspecified paperwork; a Browning .22-caliber pistol; a Thompson 50-caliber rifle; a CZ rifle; a Remington model 700 rifle; a Benelli double-barrel shotgun; a CZ rifle; a 12-gauge shotgun; a CZ M-1 carbine; a U.S. M-1 rifle; a Mohawk 600/308 rifle; a CZ 20-gauge shotgun; a Winchester .22-rifle; a Remington .25/06 muzzle loader; a New Englander muzzle loader; two sets of keys with a Gwatney dealership emblem and the last will and testament of Timothy Johnson.

The lists suggests we may be getting closer to issues that could have stirred Johnson, described in our conversations today with people who knew him as a quiet loner known mostly for his passion for guns.

UPDATE: Is there any chance political passion played a role? It is far too early to say. But, for the record, we obtained Johnson's voting record in White County. He was a regular voter, casting ballots 13 times since November 2000. He voted Republican more often than not in primary balloting. He voted Republican in 2002 and 2004 primaries and the 2008 presidential primary. He voted in the Democratic primary and Democratic runoff primary in 2006. There was no record of a vote in this year's May primary on either side.

More bio on Johnson here. He had three sisters, one of whom lived in Sheridan. Police say she helped him with finances and other matters and he may have been heading toward her home when police gave chase.

OUR FIRST POST THIS MORNING

... The morning brought no reassurance that we'd lived through a dream yesterday. It was just confirmation of the nightmare.  There was little enlightenment on what drove Timothy Johnson  to gun down Democratic Party chair Bill Gwatney. There's only greater sadness in the cold aftermath at the loss of a father, husband, successful businessman and happy political warrior.

The Searcy Daily Citizen contributes a little background on the suspected killer. A search of his home turned up a large amount of ammunition consistent with firearms found after he was killed at the end of a lengthy police chase. Neighbors, however, found little remarkable about a man they saw walking his dog on a country lane south of town.

A trusted source said Johnson had received treatment in the past at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Searcy. But so have thousands of others who have gone on to live productive, peaceful lives. It's also been reported that Johnson had left his a job at a Conway Target store earlier in the day after an angry incident over graffiti he'd scrawled on store walls, though store officials say he'd never exhibited unusual behavior before. If that offers a small insight to his state of mind, it offers nothing on the motivation for a journey that led him to Democratic Party headquarters and his request to see a party chairman who chanced to be making a visit to the office then.

A Little Rock police spokesman said early this morning that the search of Johnson's home in Searcy turned up no writings, publications or books that suggested any motivation for the crime. There was, he said, no writing on the wall, such as those he wrote on his employer's store walls. He did have an interest in weapons. In addition to reports about guns and ammos seized yesterday, a neighbor tells us of talking to a parcel delivery service driver who said he'd often delivered firearms to Johnson. Johnson participated in high-powered rifle competitions held by a Cleburne County gun club. See more on that on the jump.

FUNERAL NOTE: The funeral for Bill Gwatney will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church by Rev. Vic Nixon, a spokesman in the church office said. Flags will fly at half-staff at the Capitol that day.

Gov. Mike Beebe talked with the press about his friend today and remembered stories from Senate days. It also was revealed that Gwatney had played Asa Hutchinson in Beebe's debate prep for the 2006 election and Mike Huckabee in Jimmie Lou Fisher's run against Huckabee in 2002. Beebe also answered questions about security, emphasizing that security was important, but so was public access to the Capitol.

Also on the jump: a tribute to Gwatney from the Family Council.

 

Ken Buster is the former secretary of the Cleburne County Shooting Club. He said that Tim Johnson attended meetings in 2004 and 2005,  and shot handguns, rifles and shotguns at the club's range in Heber Springs. Buster said that Johnson only competed in high-powered rifle competitions.

Buster said that Johnson was unobtrusive, and would usually speak only if spoken to. "He was the quietest person I ever met," Buster said, and described Johnson as an average shooter but a hard worker who would show up any time there was a workday or something that needed fixing at the shooting range.

"Several of us talked to him when he would come to the match, but it was only about the shoot. I never heard him discuss politics. I never heard him discuss any derogatory statements about anyone anywhere any time."

"He was one of those people that would blend into the background. If  you were asked to describe him afterwards, he be very hard to pull out of your memory banks."

Dennis Shea, youth director of the gun club, said Johnson stopped attending club meetings soon after he was unable to stir enthusiasm among other club members in Wild West shooting competitions. In these, shooters don garb cowboy wear and target shoot. Like Buster, he said he couldn't recall Johnson talking about anything but topics related to gun activities.

Johnson's neighbor on Janet Lane in Searcy said he'd never talked with Johnson, except for calling him down one morning when Johnson's dog soiled his lawn. He said Johnson stared at him and walked on without responding. "He looked at me like he couldn't believe I was talking to him," said Daniel Zentz.

PREPARED STATEMENT FROM THE FAMILY COUNCIL'S JERRRY COX

Bill Gwatney, 1959-2008 
 
Dear Family Council Friend,

Eighteen steps—that’s how far it is from our building to the State Democratic Party Headquarters in downtown Little Rock. That’s how close the tragic murder of state party chairman Bill Gwatney was to the Family Council office.

At approximately 11:48 a.m. on Wednesday, August 13th, a man identified as Timothy Johnson entered the Arkansas Democratic Party Headquarters Building next door to our building. He shot and killed party chairman Bill Gwatney. As shots rang out, the 10 people who work in the building fled. Some ran down the street. Some took refuge in a nearby florist shop. The office manager and another employee fled here to our office to call 911. In less than 2 minutes Little Rock police and paramedics arrived, but the shooter was gone. He was later apprehended in Sheridan and was killed by police. When there’s a tragedy we all ask, “Why?” And, most of the time, we never really know the answer. Even though I don’t know the answer, I did know Bill Gwatney.

Bill Gwatney was a good man. While he was in the Arkansas Senate, he voted for a number of pro-family bills. Even if we disagreed over political issues, he always had a smile on his face and he was never disagreeable. For him, political disagreements weren’t personal. Last year, a friend of mine told me about a spiritual turn-around in Bill’s life. He spoke well of Bill’s faith in God and the change he had seen it make in Bill’s life.

As I saw the ambulance speed away from the office next door I thought about each day of life God gives us, and how truly precious those days are. Our hearts go out to the staff of the State Democratic Party for the pain and trauma they have gone through. We are deeply saddened by the loss of Chairman Gwatney. We pray for God’s grace and peace on his family and all who knew and loved him. Please remember to pray for Bill Gwatney’s friends and family.

May God Bless you,

Jerry 

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