Gunman had just quit job

Times Staff Writer

The gunman who killed the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party on Wednesday in Little Rock was a Target employee who hours earlier had quit the discount retailer and scrawled graffiti on the store’s walls.

Timothy Dale Johnson, 50, who was shot and killed by authorities after he fatally wounded Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney at party headquarters, had quit his job at a Conway, Ark., Target store that morning, the retailer confirmed.

Workers at the store had discovered profane messages on the walls that angrily complained, “This hall is too . . . narrow,” according to the Conway Police Department, which was subsequently called to the scene.


Workers later found other graffiti signed and dated by Johnson, as well as graffiti stating that Target was run by “dumb jocks,” according to Arkansas television station KTHV.

Police said they could not confirm the exact messages Johnson had written because they had been quickly wiped away by Target management.

Store managers confronted the erratically behaving Johnson, and he stormed out of the store. Concerned that Johnson might return and harm them, managers called police.

The officer who responded to the call wrote in a police report that “Johnson seemed to be extremely irate,” according to Target manager Bobby Thomas.

Thomas told the officer that “Johnson was no longer employed at Target and was not allowed access to the property,” the report says.

“The initial call came out that Target management wanted to talk about a disgruntled employee . . . that wrote some graffiti on the walls,” said Conway police spokeswoman Sharen Carter. “Some of the things that were written were obscene. Management approached this employee, and he turned in his Target badge and left. He was not there by the time officers arrived.”


Target said in a statement that Johnson did not have a history of problems at the store, where he had worked since November 2006.

“He voluntarily quit his job earlier this morning,” the company said in a statement. “He had no history of behavioral or performance problems at Target. In the preceding days, he worked his regularly scheduled shifts without incident.”

Shortly before noon Wednesday, Johnson, a resident of Searcy, Ark., walked into the Arkansas Democratic Party’s Little Rock headquarters and asked to speak to Gwatney, a well-known former state legislator.

Denied access, he barged into Gwatney’s office, shook hands with the chairman, brandished a gun and shot him several times in the upper body, police said.

Gwatney, 48, died about four hours later as Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe -- whom he had served as finance chairman during Beebe’s successful 2006 gubernatorial bid -- and other friends and family members huddled at the hospital.

After the shooting, Johnson walked into the Arkansas Baptist State Convention building a few blocks down the street and pointed a gun at workers there before leaving.


Police gave chase when Johnson drove off in a blue Dodge pickup, and he was shot by police about 30 minutes later in Grant County, south of Little Rock, after he had shot at them, authorities said. He later died.

Johnson’s motive for shooting Gwatney was unknown.