Published January 13, 2015
The building manager for the Arkansas Baptist State Convention had dealt with suspicious characters before but no one like Timothy Dale Johnson.
Kirby Martin's first encounter with the man who just moments before had shot and killed Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney was in a stairwell of the convention building Wednesday. Johnson stood about 10 feet away, pointing a gun at Martin's head.
"I certainly never thought in my wildest dream (that) Wednesday, the 13th, I'd be looking down the barrel of a gun," Martin told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "All I can tell you is when I saw him, it so shocked me. It was almost an aura of just evil. I don't know how to describe it. It shocked me so much. It was almost the aura as much as the gun."
Still unable to determine Johnson's motives, police say that after shooting Gwatney, Johnson walked into the convention building. Martin thinks Johnson may have ducked into the building for cover after seeing police nearby.
A receptionist saw the distraught-looking man and used a special code to call Martin. Johnson ran up the stairs and Martin followed, not knowing about Gwatney's shooting or that Johnson had a gun.
When Martin met up with Johnson in the stairwell and saw the gun, instinct took over, he said. Martin yelled, went down the stairs, and told the receptionist to call 911.
Then he remembered some people were having lunch in a second-floor dining area. He got on the elevator and headed back upstairs.
In the meantime, Johnson apparently had walked down the second-floor hallway, past the crowded dining area and a secretary. The secretary asked "can I help you," Martin said. "He told her, 'No one can help me."'
When the elevator door opened, Johnson was standing there. Instead of lunging at the man, Martin held the door open and Johnson stepped in. Martin pushed the button for the first floor. And on the ride down, he never looked at the gunman's hands, only his face.
"In his face, I saw just a pale, lost-looking, desperate man," Martin told the newspaper. "He was wearing khakis and a nice shirt. He was well-groomed. What came to my mind was that he was a pastor or staff member of a church that was in serious trouble."
Before the elevator door opened again, Martin asked Johnson: "What is it?"
Johnson got out of the elevator, walked toward the front door, and as he was walking out of the building, he answered: "I've lost my job."
Police say Johnson, 50, kept at least 16 guns in his Searcy home, had antidepressant pills and made out a will before shooting Gwatney. Johnson had driven to state Democratic Party headquarters in Little Rock, more than 30 miles after quitting his job at a Target store over some graffiti written on a store wall.
After Martin pointed police in the direction Johnson went, officers gave chase and caught up with him 34-miles away. Police say they shot him dead after he confronted the officers.
Martin said he is praying for Gwatney's family and Johnson's, as well. He said he has no idea why Johnson didn't shoot him.
"Why did Bill Gwatney have to lose his life that day and why was Kirby Martin's life spared? I don't know. It's one of those mysteries that I guess, this side of heaven, no one will ever be able to explain," Martin said. "But I also told my wife and other people, if I had been shot and killed, God is still good."