Lowndes County Sheriff John “Big John” Williams, pictured in an undated photo provided by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office.
An Alabama sheriff was fatally shot Saturday evening in a community near the state’s capital, authorities announced, later saying they were seeking a man considered to be a “serious risk” who may be traveling on foot.
Gov. Kay Ivey tweeted that Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams had been “tragically killed” in the line of duty and that she offered her prayers and sympathy to his family and the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department.
Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham told news outlets that Williams was shot at a gas station in the community of Hayneville, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Montgomery. Details remained sketchy as law enforcement agents converged on the community. Video from WSFA-TV showed a heavy law enforcement presence late Saturday outside a QV gas station.
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency spokesman Cpl. Jess Thornton told reporters the State Bureau of Investigation was en route to the scene.
Meanwhile, the state issued what it called an “emergency BLUE alert” that it was seeking an 18-year-old white man last seen at a QV gas station in the area at 8:15 p.m., the time of the reported shooting. The statement made no mention of the shooting or a possible connection to the man.
The tall sheriff was known as “Big John.” Ivey paid tribute to him online, writing that in his years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and “his many years working in law enforcement, he dedicated his life to keeping other people safe.”
The sheriff was first elected in 2010, running as a Democrat. He was a Lowndes County native who started volunteering as a reserve deputy in 1978. He also worked for Hayneville police before joining the sheriff’s department full-time in 1987 and being appointed chief deputy in 1990.
“Sheriff Williams always wanted to make a difference in his community and felt there was no better way to help his community than to protect and serve them in law enforcement,” the biography read.
Lowndes County is predominantly black. It had a population of around 11,000 in the 2010 census. In 2007, more than 60 people gathered at the Lowndes County Courthouse to protest then-Gov. Bob Riley’s appointment of a white law enforcement officer to replace the county’s deceased sheriff. At the time, the county commission president said all five commissioners and other elected officials had recommended Williams, who is black, for the position.
During his decadeslong career with the sheriff’s office, Williams notably in 2000 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.