Forrest City, AR – Two police officers were shot and the gunman was killed in a terrifying shootout inside the grocery section of a Walmart in eastern Arkansas on Monday morning.
Forrest City Mayor Cedric Williams said the incident began at about 10:44 a.m. when Walmart security called 911 to report a man who was behaving strangely and who had threatened people inside the store located in the 200-block of Deaderick Road.
“Our officers engaged the suspect, and the suspect is deceased,” Williams told reporters at a press conference from City Hall.
Forrest City Police Chief Deon Lee said that dispatchers put out the call over the radio about the gunman and officers responded.
Chief Lee said the first two officers who arrived on the scene were members of the Criminal Investigations Division.
As such, neither officer was equipped with a bodycam, nor were they wearing ballistic vests, he said.
The chief said that Lt. Eric Varner and Detective Eugene Watlington were “dressed as detectives” when they arrived at the Walmart, and that they knew the risks associated with rushing in to confront the suspect.
He said Lt. Varner and Det. Watlington just happened to be close to the area when the call went out and arrived ahead of patrol units who were wearing their vests.
“With the officers bravery and quick response, many lives were saved today,” the mayor told reporters.
Lt. Varner was transported to Forrest City Medical Center where he was treated for his gunshot wound and released, Chief Lee said.
The chief had just finished visiting with Det. Watlington’s family at Regional One Hospital in Memphis where the detective remained in surgery.
He told reporters that the prognosis was not as bad as they originally thought, but didn’t detail what they originally believed to be Det. Watlington’s condition.
The chief said Det. Watlington was “doing better than we expected.”
Chief Lee praised Lt. Varner and Det. Watlington’s fast response to the scene.
“It could have been a whole lot worse than what it ended up being,” he said.
The chief said that gunman was known to police but referred reporters to an Arkansas State Police press conference later on Monday for details.
The mayor said the Walmart had been shut down and remained an active crime scene.
Chief Lee said the Arkansas State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the St. Francis County Sheriff’s Office, and several other local law enforcement agencies have responded to the scene to assist the Forrest City Police Department.
“We’re thankful for everybody working together,” the mayor said.
A spokesman for Walmart told WMC that they were aware of the situation and working with the police, and referred all questions back to the Forrest City police.
They said the store would remain closed until the investigation had been completed.