In a disturbing coincidence, two former state senators — both Republicans — were shot and killed in separate, unrelated incidents in the past week.
CNN reported the tragedies occurred in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Former Arkansas state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith’s death is being treated as “suspicious” and investigated as a homicide. Former Oklahoma state Sen. Jonathan Nichols’ death is still being investigated by the criminal investigations division of the local police department.
Collins-Smith was found in her home last Tuesday, killed by a gunshot wound. Collins-Smith was a Democrat before she switched to the Republican Party and was elected to the state senate in 2014. In 2018, she was primaried and lost. NBC affiliate KARK reported that Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson — also a Republican — mourned the loss on TV and in an official statement.
On “KARK 4 Today” last Wednesday, Hutchinson brought up Collins-Smith during an interview originally about flooding from the Arkansas River.
“It's an incredible loss of a human life who's served the public and an office and that has continued to be engaged in public affairs but she's also a family person and it's just a great loss. So, we express our sympathies there and we're awaiting more details in the state police investigation," Hutchinson said.
That same day, Hutchinson released a statement mourning Collins-Smith’s death:
I'm both stunned and saddened by the death of former State Senator Linda Collins-Smith. She was a good person who served in the public arena with passion and conviction. The First Lady and I extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this difficult time.
Leslie Rutledge, the state’s attorney general, issued her own statement, KARK reported:
"I was shocked and saddened to learn of Linda's tragic death," said Attorney General Rutledge. "Always a stalwart conservative, Linda was dedicated to serving Arkansans and was a dear friend to so many. Boyce and I send our deepest prayers and sympathy to Linda's family and friends."
The Arkansas GOP also tweeted condolences:
Today, we learned of the untimely death of former Senator Linda Collins Smith. She was a passionate voice for her people and a close member of our Republican family. We are praying for her loved ones during this difficult time.
Hours later and hundreds of miles away, police found Nichols’ body in his Norman, Oklahoma home. Nichols had served in the Oklahoma state senate between 2000 and 2012. He left office due to term limits and started working at the University of Oklahoma in 2016 as the vice president of government relations. At the time of his death, he was a senior policy advisor to Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall. He was also married with two daughters.
CNN affiliate KFOR reported that police found Nichols after receiving a call about a gunshot. In a statement, the Norman Police Department said, “Investigators are currently working with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine the exact cause and manner of death,” and that “The case remains under investigation by the NPD Criminal Investigations Division.”
McCall released a statement on Nichols’ death:
I am shocked and incredibly saddened to learn that Jonathan has passed away. He was a valuable member of my staff and a friend. Jonathan was a very proud man, but he served humbly. He was proud of his family and loved them deeply, he was proud of Norman and he was proud of Oklahoma. He was especially proud of his service to the state, as a prosecutor, as a state Senator and later as a valued and esteemed advisor for both Senate leadership and House leadership. He loved the rule of law and public safety, and he spent most of his career working tirelessly on those issues. His wife, Talitha, and his daughters, Jessica and Rachel, are in our prayers today.
Joseph Harroz Jr, the interim president of Nichols’ former employer, OU, also released a statement:
We mourn his loss deeply on behalf of his family but also on behalf of the OU family and everyone who believes public service is sacred and essential for a civil society. Jonathan will be missed by me, our OU family and the many people he served in his roles as senator, prosecutor and advocate for education.