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August 13, 2008

Arkansas Dem Party Chairman dies

Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney has died after being shot this afternoon by a lone gunman, according to multiple media reports.

Gwatney was 49 years old. He was scheduled to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton.

From the Arkansas Times:

Arkansas State Democratic Party Chair Bill Gwatney was fatally wounded at State Democratic Party Headquarters on Capitol Avenue about 11:50 a.m. today, witnesses at the scene said.

The suspected shooter was also fatally wounded in a shootout with police after a 30-mile chase into adjoining Grant County, a Little Rock police spokesman said. Sources say they are working to confirm tentative information that the suspect was a former employee of a Gwatney car dealership. News reports are identifying him as Tim Johnson, 50, of Searcy. He reportedly was a body shop worker at a Gwatney dealership in Sherwood. A woman who answered the phone there hung up after issuing a no comment to a question.

Gwatney was taken from the scene in an ambulance and a witness said the wound was serious. Police spokesman Terry Hastings (shown at crime scene briefing shortly after the shooting) said later that he'd been shot three times in the upper body and was in critical condition. At 2 p.m., friends with the Gwatney family at the hospital told friends he was still in surgery. Friends say doctors were struggling to keep him stable because of the severity of the wounds.

HIs death was officially announced at a 4 p.m. police news conference.

Both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton also just put out a joint statement on Gwatney’s tragic death.

“We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away. 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.”

UPDATE: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) put out the following statement on Gwatney's death.

“Bill was a tireless worker for all Arkansans. This is a terrible tragedy for his family, his friends, and the state of Arkansas. He has been a close and valued friend to me and I am devastated that this senseless act has taken him from us. Steve and I will be remembering Bill’s family in our thoughts and prayers during the difficult days ahead.”