John "Big John" Williams was respected as a lawman and revered as a community leader. Williams, the longtime sheriff of Lowndes County, Alabama, was fatally shot Saturday night at a convenience store in downtown Hayneville, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
"Man, this hurts,” Michael Jackson, the district attorney for Alabama’s Fourth Judicial Circuit, told the website.
William Chase Johnson, 18, of Montgomery, surrendered to police early Sunday, Sgt. Steve Jarrett of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency told WSFA. Johnson, the son of a law enforcement officer, is the lead suspect in the case, officials said.
Tributes poured in from around the state as the news of Williams' death spread.
"He was a great sheriff but an even better person,'' Jackson told AL.com. “He really cared about the Black Belt. He came over to Selma many times to help fight the gang problem.”
Williams was born and raised in Lowndes County and graduated from Calhoun High School in 1976, AL.com reported.
Williams was elected as Lowndes County's sheriff in 2010 and was reelected in 2014, the Advertiser reported.
He began his law enforcement career in 1978, when he began volunteering as a reserve deputy and then worked in the Hayneville Police Department during the 1980s. He was appointed as Lowndes County's chief deputy in 1990, a post he served in for 19 years.
"He was a wonderful man,'' Jarrett told AL.com. "Everybody in law enforcement knew him. If you ever met him, you'd never forget him. He worked 24/7 and was an outstanding sheriff."
In 2000, Williams 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.
In June 2013, Williams was one of 30 black leaders in Alabama who gathered at the state Capitol days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, the Advertiser reported.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey expressed her condolences via Twitter.
“I’m saddened to hear about Sheriff Big John Williams, who was tragically killed this evening in the line of duty. Through his service to our country in the USMC and his many years working in law enforcement, he dedicated his life to keeping other people safe,’’ Ivey wrote. “He will be remembered as a consummate professional and pillar of his community. I offer my prayers and deepest sympathies to his family and the men and women of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.”
Williams is the fifth Alabama law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty during 2019, AL.com reported. He leaves a wife and children, according to the website.
"He was as fine a man you'll ever find," Wade told AL.com. "He always had a kind word for everyone."
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