The ‘senseless’ murder of Sheriff ‘Big John’ Williams has stunned Lowndes County, Alabama: ‘I don’t understand it’ – USA TODAY

HAYNEVILLE, Ala. — Lowndes County is mourning a giant.

Sheriff “Big John” Williams towered over this rural central Alabama county in more ways than one. He was shot and killed in the line of duty Saturday night in the parking lot of the QV convenience store. The store is on the main drag of this small hamlet, across the town square from the courthouse and just down the street from Williams’ home.

“A good man lost his life for nothing, it’s just senseless,” said Steve Webb, a Lowndes County native. He was filling up his pickup at the store Sunday morning. “It’s just senseless. 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.”

Williams’ towering height gave him his nickname. A beloved lawman serving in his home county, he was regarded highly by the home folk. He was also well respected in the state’s law enforcement community.

He had an easy smile and a deep voice that he hardly ever raised. He didn’t have to.

“He was the sheriff,” said Eddie Lee “Jackpot” Grant, another Lowndes County native. “If he could help you, he would. Every time he would see you, he’d wave and speak. You know that voice he had.”

Hayneville, the county seat, is about 25 miles west of Montgomery, in the heart of the Black Belt. The county has a population of about 11,000. Williams had a habit of riding through the town and out in the county in his unmarked Chevy Tahoe. He would squawk the siren as he went by.

‘The sheriff is gone over loud music?’ Alabama sheriff shot and killed over loud music, witnesses and police say

“You see Big John and he’d give you the whoop-whoop,” Grant said, smiling. “He’d never toot the horn, just the whoop-whoop. He let you know he was out doing his job. And now he’s gone.”

Details are still sketchy as to what happened Saturday night. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is handling the investigation. ALEA labeled William Chase Johnson, 18, as the suspect in the shooting Saturday night. Williams was shot about 8:15 p.m. Johnson walked up to the crime scene just after midnight, firearm in hand, and gave himself up after an hours’ long manhunt.

Charles Benson talks outside the QV convenience store in Hayneville, Ala., on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams was shot and killed Saturday night.

ALEA hasn’t commented on if Williams was in uniform at the time or if he was driving a marked or unmarked vehicle. Johnson is being housed in the Elmore County Jail. He has been charged with murder, according to jail records. No bond has been set.

Law enforcement sources and witnesses say Williams approached the truck Johnson was driving and asked him why his music was so loud. That’s when Johnson allegedly shot Williams once in the head.

Charles Benson said he witnessed it all.

“Right there at Pump 8,” Benson said, standing in front of the store with a styrofoam container of breakfast he had just bought from the food counter inside. “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. I don’t understand it. The sheriff is gone over loud music? It just don’t seem right.”

Curtis Lee agreed. He, too, was filling up Sunday and getting a bite to eat.

“I just don’t understand it,” he said. “When I heard it last night, I knew it wasn’t anybody from Lowndes County that would do such a thing. It had to be somebody from outside. Nobody in Lowndes County wants to hurt the sheriff. He’s part of the community.”

Across the street and behind the courthouse at the New Salem Christian Church, Rev. Willie Smith was in about 10 a.m. Sunday getting ready for services.

“It’s praying time,” Smith said. “The sheriff was our sheriff. It’s quite sad. He was a servant to the community, having grown up here and making his work law enforcement. He was spiritual man, a deacon in his church.

Rev. Willie Smith talks at the New Salem Christian Church in Hayneville, Ala., on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams was shot and killed Saturday night.

“When we had revival, the sheriff would lead devotions. He was just a good, good man. I don’t understand it. All I know is God is in control, God is in complete control.”

Area law enforcement leaders expressed shock and sorrow at Williams’ murder.

Prattville Police Chief Mark Thompson retired as a captain with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office after more than 30 years service before being appointed Prattville’s top cop. Williams worked in law enforcement in Lowndes Count,y first at Hayneville Police Department then at the sheriff’s office.

“We came up as deputies together,” Thompson said. “This is just devastating. John was just a good, good man.”

Autauga County Sheriff Joe Sedinger described Williams as “a big teddy bear.”

“For his size, he was gentle,” Sedinger said. “He was full of compassion. He loved everybody. You just can’t say enough good things about John.”

Williams was always ready to come to the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, said Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin. He’s served as sheriff for more than 27 years.

“John was one of favorites in law enforcement in this area,” Franklin said. “Any time you needed help, John was there. He was a friend to everyone. He was just an all-around good man.”

Lowndes County District Judge Adrian Johnson agreed.

“John was friend to everyone and I’m proud to say he was my friend,” he said. “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,” Johnson said. “I just can’t imagine Lowndes County without John Williams.”