Clintons: Arkansas Democratic leader killed

Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney.
Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney.
CNN's Mary Lynn Ryan contributed to this report.

Posted by Nick Dutton - email

(CNN) - The chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party died Wednesday, hours after a shooting at the party's headquarters, according to a statement from former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Police would not identify the victim, but the statement gave his name as Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney.

The shooting suspect also died Wednesday afternoon after a high-speed chase ended in gunfire, police said.

The suspect had walked into the downtown headquarters, near the state Capitol building, about 11:50 a.m. and started firing, Little Rock police Lt. Terry Hastings said.

He said one person "working in the office" had been injured, but could not offer a possible motive.

The gunman walked into the office and 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.

He said the man pushed his way past an employee to reach Gwatney's office, according to the AP.

A woman in a nearby business told KTHV that Gwatney's assistant came in and asked her to call police. VideoWatch 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.

"She said she was waiting on the gentleman. He wanted to see the chairman. She tried to give him Democratic party stuff," Lee told KTHV. "Evidently, he walked on around her and went in the office and started shooting."

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.

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

Authorities from Grant County said they used a "precision mobilization technique" to hit the 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.

Meanwhile, police would not say if the suspect was the same person who walked into a nearby Arkansas Baptist State Convention after the shooting with a gun, according to CNN affiliate KARK.

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.

Police would not confirm the victim's identity, 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.

The Democratic National Committee also issued a statement on the incident Wednesday that identified Gwatney as the victim.

"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 contributed contributed this report.