Former Arkansas state senator's death being investigated as a homicide

Arkansas State Police confirmed her death on Thursday and said they are investigating it as a homicide.

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By Ben Kesslen and Minyvonne Burke

Former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith was found dead in the city of Pocahontas, her former colleagues and the state GOP said.

Arkansas State Police confirmed her death on Thursday and said they are investigating it as a homicide.

The Randolph County Sheriff's Office said at a news conference on Wednesday that the condition of the body that was discovered prevented authorities from making an immediate positive identification.

Former Arkansas State Senator Linda Collins-Smith was found dead in her home on June 4, 2019.Arkansas GOP

Ken Yang, Collins-Smith’s former press secretary, told NBC News he was "in shock" over her death. He said neighbors heard gunshots a couple of days ago and the senator, who usually posts on social media every day, had not posted anything since May 28. Yang said her body was found outside her home on Tuesday, and state and federal authorities are on the case.

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A call to the FBI for comment was not immediately returned.

"She was a strong, Christian lady,” Yang said. "She was always there. She just had my back.”

Arkansas State Police and the sheriff's office were called to Collins-Smith's house around 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday after people "familiar with the person who resided at the home" discovered human remains outside, police said.

The body is being transferred to a medical examiner to determine the cause of death.

Former colleagues and friends took to social media to mourn her death.

“She was a passionate voice for her people,” the Arkansas GOP wrote on Twitter, adding “We are praying for her loved ones during this difficult time.”

“Linda was a friend who had a deep faith in God & passion for her state and nation,” Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin of Arkansas wrote. “She is missed.”

Collins-Smith, 57, was elected to the Arkansas House as a Democrat in 2010, and shortly after being elected, she switched parties. She served one term in the House, and in 2014 she was elected to the state Senate, where she served two terms before being defeated for re-election in 2018. According to her website, she was a mother and grandmother.

Yang said he met Collins-Smith in 2010 after graduating from college and getting involved in politics. He helped with her campaign in 2014 and also handled media for her during her 2015 and 2017 terms in the state Senate.

“Through the years we hit it off and not only had a business relationship but became good friends,"Yang said, adding, “She always wanted to make sure I was successful."

In 2017, Collins-Smith introduced a controversial transgender “bathroom bill” to the Arkansas Senate that would have required people to use the bathrooms that correspond to their assigned sex.