Hayneville, AL – Lowndes County Sheriff John “Big John” Williams was murdered in the line of duty on Saturday night as he was responding to a noise and trespassing complaint outside a convenience store.
The incident occurred outside the local QV store at approximately 8:16 p.m., after a store employee called to report that a large group of people had congregated out in the parking lot and were refusing to leave, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
When Sheriff Williams arrived at the scene, he made contact with 18-year-old William Chase Johnson, and asked him why he had his truck’s stereo turned up so loud, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
In response, Johnson allegedly pulled out a gun and shot the sheriff in the head, killing him.
“Right there at Pump 8,” witness Charles Benson told the Montgomery Advertiser. “"Big John comes up and asks the young man about the loud music, just like he has done hundreds of times before. Big John don't take no foolishness.”
“That’s when he got shot,” Benson said.
The gunman fled the scene, leading to a four-hour manhunt.
He was ultimately apprehended at approximately 12:05 a.m. on Sunday, when he showed back up at the murder scene with a gun in his hand, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
According to the neighboring Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Johnson is the son of one of their deputies, NBC News reported.
He has been charged with murder and is being held at the Elmore County Jail, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) is handling the ongoing investigation into Sheriff Williams’ murder.
“We in Alabama’s law enforcement community mourn the loss of a dedicated brother,” ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor said in a press release on Sunday. “Not only was Lowndes County Sheriff ‘Big John’ Williams a committed man of the law, but he was kind and loved by many. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williams family.”
Sheriff Williams, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, “dedicated his life to keeping other people safe,” Alabama Governor Kay Ivey tweeted on Saturday night.
“He will be remembered as a consummate professional and pillar of his community,” Ivey wrote. “I offer my prayers and deepest sympathies to his family and to the men and women of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.”
Sheriff Williams joined the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office as a reserve deputy in 1978, according to WLS.
He also served the Hayneville Police Department before he accepted a full-time position with the LCSO in 1987.
He was promoted to the rank of chief deputy in 1990, and was first elected as sheriff in 2010.
“If any of you knew Big John Williams, he was a wonderful man,” ALEA Sergeant Steve Jarrett said during a press conference late Saturday night, according to NBC News. “Everybody in law enforcement knew him. If you ever met him, you'd never forget him."
Sgt. Jarrett described him as “an outstanding sheriff and a great friend,” NBC News reported.
Lowndes County resident Steve Webb said that Sheriff Williams was a fair man who was highly regarded by the community.
“A good man lost his life for nothing. It's just senseless," Webb told USA Today. “The sheriff was a good man. He didn't play any favorites. He didn't care if you were black or white. He was a good man, and now he's gone."
Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson said that Sheriff Williams cared deeply for the community he served.
“John was friend to everyone and I'm proud to say he was my friend," Johnson told USA Today. "He didn't care if you were black or white, rich or poor. He took care of people. He knew everyone in the county. He always had a smile. He was always ready to serve.
"This is just a tragic end to a fine, fine man," the judge continued. "I just can't imagine Lowndes County without John Williams."
Sheriff Williams leaves behind his wife and children, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
"Serving the public in the role of a peace officer is a difficult calling, fraught with peril, yet thankfully many Alabama men and women choose to answer the call, often time putting their lives in danger to protect us," Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement, according to WLS.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Lowndes County Sheriff John “Big John” Williams, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Sheriff John Williams, your life mattered.