WASHINGTON - Agence France-Presse
The chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas was killed Wednesday by a gunman who barged into the party's state headquarters and opened fire, police and Democratic leaders said.
Bill Gwatney "was shot multiple times" in the upper body and died of his wounds in hospital some four hours later, Little Rock police Lieutenant Terry Hastings said in a briefing aired by FOX News.
The killing of Gwatney, reportedly 48 years old, left fellow Democratic leaders in shock less than two weeks before the party's national convention in the midst of a fierce battle for the White House.
"We are deeply saddened by the news that Bill Gwatney has passed away," former president Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary said in a joint statement. The couple lived for years in the Arkansas capital of Little Rock while Bill Clinton was governor and called Gwatney a close friend. Obama reacted swiftly to the shooting as well, saying he and his wife Michelle "are heartbroken" to hear about the murder.
"With this senseless act of violence we have lost a good friend and honorable man," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and other senior party operatives said in a statement. "Bill will be remembered for his hard work and dedication to the party, and he will be sorely missed."
Gwatney was one of the party's nearly 800 so-called superdelegates, who are allowed to vote as they wish at the Democratic convention. During the nomination campaign Gwatney supported Clinton, who handily defeated Obama in the Arkansas primary.
Gwatney had also served as finance chairman for Mike Beebe's successful 2006 campaign for Arkansas governor.
The violent attack is the second in several months targeting the Democratic Party. In November a man claiming to be armed with a bomb took over U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's campaign office in the state of New Hampshire and held five people hostage for more than five hours before surrendering.