Image: Timothy Dale Johnson
AP
Timothy Dale Johnson barged into the Arkansas Democratic headquarters Wednesday and fatally shot the state party chairman before speeding off in his pickup. Police later shot and killed the suspect after a 30-mile chase.
updated 8/14/2008 5:54:18 PM ET 2008-08-14T21:54:18

The man who fatally shot the chairman of the state Democratic Party after he lost his job had a Post-it note at home with the victim's last name and phone number along with 14 guns, antidepressants and a last will and testament, according to court documents.

Police said Thursday they know of no relationship between gunman Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, and Bill Gwatney, 48, a car dealer and former state senator who served as the state's Democratic Party chairman.

Johnson shot Gwatney to death Wednesday and was killed by officers after a 30-minute chase.

The search of Johnson's home near Searcy, northeast of Little Rock, turned up two sets of keys for vehicles from Gwatney car lots. Johnson also had a pistol and 13 long guns.

Police Lt. Terry Hastings said officers didn't know what to make of the note and police didn't disclose the phone number or say whether it was to the party headquarters or a car dealership.

"Right now we don't have any indication of motive as far as it deals with Mr. Gwatney," Hastings said. Little Rock police were going through a computer that was seized from Johnson's home, Hastings said.

Wreathes and flowers lined the sidewalk in front of Arkansas' Democratic Party headquarters Thursday. The day before, Johnson — after losing his job at a Target store in Conway — drove more than 30 miles and fatally shot Gwatney.

An 'extremely irate' employee
Johnson had been a good employee in a Target stockroom until Wednesday morning, a Target spokeswoman said.

Target fired Johnson before 8 a.m. Wednesday because he had written on a wall and a manager had called police because of an "extremely irate" employee, said Conway police spokeswoman Sharen Carter. The graffiti, including "Target is run by dumb jocks and sorority b------," had already been cleaned and Johnson had left by the time officers arrived.

"This was different behavior for him," spokeswoman Brie Heath said Thursday. "The manager asked him if he needed to talk. At that point he turned in his badge and left the building."

After leaving the store, Johnson drove to Little Rock and barged into Gwatney's office and shot him multiple times.

"He said he was interested in volunteering, but that was obviously a lie," said Sam Higginbotham, a 17-year-old volunteer at the party's headquarters.

After the shooting, Johnson sped away in a truck, stopped seven blocks away at the Arkansas State Baptist Convention and pointed a gun at the building's manager, police said. When asked what was wrong, the gunman said "I lost my job," according to Dan Jordan, the church group's business manager.

Two guns recovered
Officers chased the suspect to Sheridan, 30 miles south of Little Rock. After avoiding spike strips and a roadblock, the suspect emerged from his truck and began shooting at deputies and state troopers, who returned fire. Johnson later died at a hospital. Police found two guns in the truck.

Little Rock police Lt. Terry Hastings didn't say what the men discussed after Johnson entered Gwatney's office but said it was not a heated exchange.

"They introduced themselves, and at that time he pulled out a handgun and shot Chairman Gwatney several times," he said.

Police said they could find no criminal record for Johnson. "If he's got a record, it's minor," Hastings said.

Conway police called Johnson's departure a termination but Heath said the man left of his own accord. "When he left yesterday, he voluntarily left. We asked him 'What's going on? Do you want to talk about something? It was 'Let's talk.' It was not about termination," Heath said.

Johnson lived along a one-lane gravel road in a one-story ranch-style house of brown brick. Multicolored Christmas lights still hung around Johnson's carport door. In the garden, a six-foot sunflower was wilted, pointing toward the ground.

Neighbors stunned
Johnson's neighbors were stunned that the same man who tilled in a garden behind his home and walked his beagle to the end of the one-lane road each day could be a killer.

"Honestly, it was a shocker," said Helen Mowrer, 73. "You don't ever know about people, but that's the last thing in the world I would have ever considered."

Johnson's father, a World War II veteran, worked for years as a farmer before moving near Searcy with his wife, Mathel, and their three daughters. Johnson moved into his parents' single-story ranch home after his father's death in 2006.

Ripe red tomatoes sat on the two steps leading up to a sliding glass door at the back of Johnson's home, likely picked from the tomato stalks still up among his row of vegetables and flowers in the back. Sunflowers, some towering more than six feet, wilted down under the August sun.

Neighbor Jeannie Liles said Johnson would bring tomatoes, squash and peppers by their house next door. When Liles first moved in, she kept her grandchildren back as a precaution. But soon, the children scurried over to his large backyard, often throwing balls back and forth with Johnson.

Sometimes, Johnson would even come in her yard to pick up fallen tree limbs after strong winds tore through the pastures surrounding their small neighborhood.

"He was not a person of a lot of words, but he did carry on conversations," said Liles, 60.

Worked an overnight shift
Johnson worked an overnight shift at Target store, meaning he would leave late in the evening for work and return home around noon. He would wake up in the afternoon to leash up and walk his dog, often taking Liles' two dogs with him for the stroll.

If something troubled Johnson, his neighbors couldn't tell. The only hint came the day before the shooting, when Liles' husband saw a paper target set up in the backyard. They dismissed it as practice for the upcoming bow hunting season in Arkansas.

Johnson was a member of the Cleburne County Shooting Club. Ken Buster, a former club secretary, said Johnson was quiet and that he never heard him talk politics. Buster described Johnson as "average to subaverage" with a gun.

"He would never impress anybody with his shooting skills," Buster said.

Neighbors said they never saw Johnson with any of the firearms he owned. "Something bad must have happened," Liles said. "He must have just snapped."

Thursday, his young beagle remained in a wire-fence pen in the backyard, crying out occasionally at passers-by.

Another neighbor said investigators visited her home Wednesday to talk about the suspect. Loretta Jones said her only contact with Johnson had been the three or four times she complained to him about his dog.

"It makes you wonder what got into somebody to do something so horrible," Jones said.

Democratic and Republican party officials said their offices would remain closed until Monday. A wreath featuring an elephant and donkey figures stood outside the Democratic headquarters Wednesday evening.

"Bill Gwatney was our friend, our party's leader, and so many times our party's conscience," the party said in a statement. "Our state and our party are better for all that Bill Gwatney has done."

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who served with Gwatney in the state Senate, joined a vigil at University Hospital after what he called a "shocking and senseless attack."

'Deep pain'
Gwatney was Beebe's finance chairman during the 2006 campaign, when Democrats swept all seven statewide offices.

"Arkansas has lost a great son, and I have lost a great friend," Beebe said. "There is deep pain in Arkansas tonight because of the sheer number of people who knew, respected and loved Bill Gwatney."

Image: Bill Gwatney
Danny Johnston  /  AP file
Bill Clinton described Arkansas' Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney as a "cherished friend". Gwatney, a former state senator, was shot dead on Wednesday.
Karen Ray, executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas, sent her workers home after the shooting "out of an abundance of caution."

"He was an admirable Arkansan and gave so much to this state and his party," GOP chairman Dennis Milligan said.

Because of his position in the state party, Gwatney was to be a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this month in Denver. He declared his support for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton after the Arkansas primary in February but endorsed Barack Obama after Clinton dropped out of the presidential race.

Clinton and her husband, former President and former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, issued a statement calling Gwatney "not only a strong chairman of Arkansas' Democratic Party, but ... also a cherished friend and confidante."

Obama said: "Michelle and I are heartbroken to hear about the tragic loss of Chairman Bill Gwatney. We're praying for his family and friends and all who worked with him and loved him."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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