Arkansas Walmart shooting wounds 2 police officers; suspect dead, investigators say

A shooting at an eastern Arkansas Walmart Monday ended with a suspect dead and two police officers injured, investigators said.

Two officers were shot at the Walmart in Forrest City, about 85 miles east of Little Rock. The suspect was also shot.

"With the officers' bravery and quick response, many lives again were saved today," Forrest City Mayor Cedric Williams said during a news conference. “Due to their heroism and quick response, no civilians were injured."

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The officers responded to the Walmart for reports of someone making threats to customers, Williams said.

Once police arrived, the two officers confronted the suspect when he pulled out a gun and shot them both. The officers then returned fire and shot and killed the suspect, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

One of the officers, who was shot four times, was rushed to the Regional One Health hospital in Memphis where he underwent surgery and is expected to survive, Forrest City Police Chief Deon Lee said.

“He's going to be OK," Lee added.

Lee identified the two responding officers as Lt. Eric Varner and Det. Eugene Watlington. Both are assigned to the criminal investigation department and neither was wearing a bullet-proof vest, Lee said.

He did not say which officer was rushed to the hospital.

Forrest City, Ark., Mayor Cedric Williams, left, holding a news conference after two police officers were wounded and a gunman was killed in an exchange of gunfire at a Walmart in eastern Arkansas on Monday morning. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Forrest City, Ark., Mayor Cedric Williams, left, holding a news conference after two police officers were wounded and a gunman was killed in an exchange of gunfire at a Walmart in eastern Arkansas on Monday morning. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

Investigators said police knew the suspect. The sheriff identified him as Bobby Gibbs, Fox 16 reported. He had an extensive criminal record, with arrests in 2012 for weapons possession, the station reported.

“That’s not like the Bobby I know. We were raised together, played in the same yard together, slept in the same bed beside each other,” Allen McGowan, the suspect’s first-cousin and an assistant manager at a separate Walmart in Helena, Tenn., said. “I’m praying for the families of those victims. I hope the officers he fired on are safe and home with their families soon. Just keep praying.”

McGowan said he worked at the store in Forrest City for ten years before transferring.

Bobby Gibbs, 40, was identified as the deceased shooter who allegedly opened fire inside a Walmart in Arkansas on Monday. 

Bobby Gibbs, 40, was identified as the deceased shooter who allegedly opened fire inside a Walmart in Arkansas on Monday.  ( Craighead Sheriff's Office)

“The prayers and thoughts of the ASP are with the two Forrest City Police Officers that were injured this morning in a shooting at the Walmart store, located in Forrest City,” Arkansas State Police wrote on Facebook.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a tweet that he's grateful for the law enforcement officers who put their lives at risk to keep the public safe.

A woman who was inside the Walmart at the time told KATV she heard 12 gunshots before she and her husband ran out the front entrance of the store.

“I’m scared,” Kim Bery, an employee who answered the phone at an auto parts store across the street from the Walmart, told The Associated Press.

Bery said she could see a lot of police presence at the Walmart and that Walmart employees appeared to have been evacuated into the parking lot.

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Arkansas State Police were leading the investigation.

In the aftermath of a shooting that killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, the retailer came under criticism for having insufficient security at stores. Walmart has since quietly expanded security at all its El Paso stores to include an armed off-duty police officer and a security guard. A spokeswoman for the company said in November that the hiring of off-duty officers in El Paso was not a blanket policy. It’s unclear what security measures were in place at the Forrest City store on Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.