FORREST CITY, Ark. (WMC) - Arkansas State Police are continuing to piece together what took place Monday morning inside a Walmart store in Forrest City, Arkansas. The encounter left two police officers shot and a suspect dead.
Walmart officials told WMC Action News 5 Tuesday morning the store was released back to them by Arkansas State Police Monday night.
Employees reported to work Tuesday, but the store was not open, a security guard at the site said. The guard said it was possible the store may reopen Wednesday. Walmart did not respond when asked about the store’s status Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the incident has left the community shaken.
“It’s been very tough for us. We’re a close knit group. We work hand in hand. It’s not like a large department where you may just know someone’s last name. You know everyone’s family,” said Det. Sgt. Jeff Nichols with the Forrest City Police Department.
Nichols said emotions are high at the Forrest City Police Department after Monday’s shooting.
“Some of our employees, we have offered them counseling, and some of them have sought it out,” he said.
Lieutenant Eric Varner and Detective Eugene Watlington were shot responding to a call of a person causing a disturbance inside the store. Both officers work in the department’s investigations division.
Forrest City Police said Monday the suspect was a Forrest City resident, 40-year-old Bobby Joe Gibbs. Gibbs was killed. Investigators have not released a narrative for the incident. Police said Gibbs was known to them and was previously arrested in 2012.
“He was OK to me,” said Beatrice Lynch.
Lynch said Gibbs lived near her and told her two years ago someone was trying to shoot at him when a bullet hit her house.
“He said that’s OK I got my gun, and so when he said that he got his gun and he showed it I said OK I’m going back in the house,” she said recalling the alleged incident.
Another man who didn’t want to be identified said he drove a truck with Gibbs previously. The man said he was stunned to hear the media reports.
“He was kind of off to himself, didn’t speak to no one unless they spoke to him,” the former colleague said. “But he was always a good dude.”
Lieutenant Eric Varner is recovering from his injuries at his home. He was treated and released at an area hospital Monday. His wife told WMC Action News 5 Tuesday that he is resting, and their family is grateful for the community support.
Detective Eugene Watlington underwent surgery at Regional One in Memphis Monday. A Facebook posting by a relative said the bullets missed his heart and large vessels, but his abdominal area was damaged. The posting went on to state that surgeons were able to repair the damage.
Watlington is sedated and his wife is by his side. Family members also indicated his wife was at the Walmart store Monday when the incident played out, but she was unhurt in the shooting. The family has started a GoFundMe site in the wake of the shooting.
Tuesday Arkansas State Police did not provide any additional details about the incident.
“No additional information is anticipated being released until after the investigative file is submitted and reviewed by the prosecuting attorney,” wrote ASP spokesperson Bill Sadler in an email.