From staff and wire reports:
Condolences poured in Sunday after the fatal shooting of Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams, known locally as “Big John.”
Law enforcement agencies in Alabama and beyond posted tributes on social media offering prayers and support.
“We in Alabama’s law enforcement community mourn the loss of a dedicated brother,” Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor said in a Sunday statement. “Not only was Lowndes County Sheriff ‘Big John’ Williams a committed man of the law, but he was kind and loved by many.”
Residents of Hayneville gathered for a vigil and prayer service near the gas station where Williams was shot while reportedly asking a driver about loud music coming from his truck. The Montgomery Advertiser reports that witnesses saw a driver shoot Williams in the head after approaching the car.
The suspect was identified as 18-year-old William Chase Johnson, who is being held in an Elmore County jail. CNN reports that Johnson is the son of a deputy from a neighboring county’s sheriff’s department.
Williams is the fifth Alabama law enforcement officer to die from gunfire in the line of duty, and the sixth overall, in 2019, according to a statement from state Attorney General Steve Marshall.
It was unclear what, if any, role race played in the shooting. The sheriff was African American.
The state had issued an emergency alert late Saturday saying it was seeking an 18-year-old white man last seen around the time of the evening shooting at a QV gas station in the Lowndes County seat of Hayneville, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of the capital city of Montgomery.
Sgt. Steve Jarrett, the commander of state troopers’ Montgomery post, later confirmed to reporters that the shooting took place at the QV station, and that Johnson was the only suspect at the time. An emailed message announcing the alert said the man they were seeking was considered a “serious risk” and possibly was traveling on foot.
Jarrett confirmed to news outlets that Johnson subsequently approached the shooting scene just after midnight and that he had a handgun with him. The state law enforcement agency canceled the emergency alert early Sunday, saying Johnson was taken into custody.
“Details as to how he fled the scene and then reappeared at the scene, all that’s going to be investigated,” Jarrett said, according to WSFA-TV.
The tall sheriff was known as “Big John.” Gov. Ivey paid tribute to him online, writing that in the sheriff’s years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and “his many years working in law enforcement, he dedicated his life to keeping other people safe.”
Williams was first elected sheriff in 2010, running as a Democrat. He was a Lowndes County native who had begun volunteering as a reserve deputy in 1978. He also worked for Hayneville police before joining the sheriff’s department full-time in 1987 and being appointed chief deputy in 1990.
“Sheriff Williams always wanted to make a difference in his community and felt there was no better way to help his community than to protect and serve them in law enforcement,” the biography read.
During his decades with the sheriff’s office, Williams notably in 2000 was the arresting officer of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a 1960s black militant who was known as H. Rap Brown before converting to Islam. Al-Amin was wanted and later convicted in the fatal 2000 shooting of a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy in Atlanta.