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Arkansas Democratic chairman killed in shooting

  • Story Highlights
  • Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney dies after shooting
  • Suspect killed when police shot him in standoff
  • Chairman's aide asked nearby store owner to call 911
  • Police are trying to verify suspect's identity and looking for motive
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(CNN) -- The chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party died Wednesday, about four hours after a shooting at the party's headquarters, police said.

Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney died Wednesday after being shot.

Police block off the streets surrounding the state Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday in Little Rock.

Chairman Bill Gwatney died at 3:59 Wednesday afternoon after a gunman entered his Little Rock office and shot him several times in the upper body, Little Rock Police Lt. Terry Hastings said.

Authorities confirmed the news shortly after former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton released a statement expressing their condolences.

"We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away," the former governor and first lady of Arkansas said. "His leadership and commitment to Arkansas and this country have always inspired us and those who had the opportunity to know him."

The shooting suspect, a white male in his fifties, also died Wednesday afternoon after a police chase ended in gunfire, Hastings said.

Authorities are working to confirm his identity, but Hastings said there was no indication that he was a former employee. He said police were investigating possible motives, as well as why the suspect went into the Arkansas Baptist State Convention brandishing a gun.

CNN affilliates KARK and KTHV identified the gunman as Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, of Searcy, Arkansas.

The suspect walked into the downtown headquarters, near the state Capitol building, before noon.

The gunman said he was interested in volunteering, said Sam Higginbotham, a 17-year-old volunteer at the headquarters, The Associated Press reported.

"That was obviously a lie," Higginbotham said, the AP reported.

The man asked for Gwatney and spoke with another employee before pushing his way into his office and pulling a gun on Gwatney, Hastings said.

A woman in a nearby business told KTHV that Gwatney's assistant came in and asked her to call police. Video Watch witnesses describe the incident »

"I thought maybe someone had gotten hit by a car," said Sarah Lee, who works at a florist's shop. "She was just shaking really bad." But then the woman said that Gwatney had been shot and that three shots had been fired, Lee said.

After the shooting, the suspect entered a nearby Arkansas Baptist State Convention and pointed a gun at an employee.

The man was "white as a sheet," convention official Dan Jordan said.

"I've heard he said something do to about losing a job. ... He didn't threaten anyone." The man left through the front door shortly afterward, he said.

A vehicle description was provided to police, Hastings said, and officers found it. A chase involving Little Rock police, Arkansas State Police and the Grant County Sheriff's Office ended about 20 miles south of Little Rock, where the suspect was shot and taken into custody, he said. See a map of where the suspect was shot »

Police said the suspect drove into a ditch and around a set of spike strips in an attempt to evade police.

Grant County authorities used a squad car to hit the suspect's vehicle from behind and ram it into another unit.

The man then got out of his vehicle and began shooting at officers, who returned fire.

In Sheridan, Arkansas, where the chase ended, a crowd gathered near the suspect's blue pickup as police cordoned off the area with yellow crime-scene tape. What appeared to be bullet holes could be seen in the truck's windshield.

Police did not confirm Gwatney's identity until he died, but the Clintons released a statement earlier Wednesday that suggested Gwatney was involved.

"We are stunned and shaken by today's shooting at the Arkansas Democratic Party where our good friend and fellow Democrat Bill Gwatney was critically wounded," they said.

"Bill is not only a strong chairman of Arkansas' Democratic Party, but he is also a cherished friend and confidante. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill and his family today and we wish him a quick recovery," they said.

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The Democratic National Committee also issued a statement Wednesday that identified Gwatney.

"This senseless tragedy comes as a shock to all of us," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a written statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chairman Gwatney and his family and we pray for his full and speedy recovery."

CNN's Mary Lynn Ryan contributed to this report.

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