Philip Wise, a 40-year-old major at the North Little Rock Salvation Army center, was returning from driving home two bell ringers when he was approached by two black males wielding handguns, according to Arkansas’ North Little Rock Police Sgt. Terry Kuykendall.
“Our preliminary investigation indicates that Mr. Wise had returned to the center with this three children – ages 4, 6 and 8 – when they were approached by two black males demanding money,” Kuykendall told ABCNews.com.
“Then Mr. Wise was shot and killed in front of his children,” he said.
Wise’s wife, Cindy Wise, is also a major at the same Salvation Army, and was inside waiting for her family to return when she realized her husband had been shot. Cindy Wise called 911 but by the time police arrived, her husband was already dead, according to Kuykendall.
“When the officers arrived they found the victim behind the business near the back door deceased,” said Kuykendall, who declined to specify how many times Wise had been shot or how much, if any, money was taken.
Police say they are following leads the public is calling in, hoping to identify and locate the suspects. According to Kuykendall, the crime scene was washed clean in a rainstorm, leaving investigators few clues.
The two suspects were reportedly seen running away into nearby government-funded housing, said Kuykendall.
While Wise was known for working over the past three years closely with that particular housing project, Kuykendall said it’s still unclear whether he knew his attackers.
Wise is well-known in the tight-knit community of just under 60,000 people, where many spent the Christmas holiday remembering the father of three for the help he had provided to the less fortunate in the community for the past 16 years.
Kuykendall, who had met Wise on two different occasions, described him as a “big guy with a big smile” who was “not easily forgotten.”
Wise’s wife, Cindy Wise, spoke at a service Sunday at the center where the murder occurred, telling congregants that she will continue to work to “give hope to the hopeless.”
“Together we will provide salvation and grace to this neighborhood,” she said.
Unable to be reached at home by ABCNews.com, a woman who answered the Wise family phone said that Cindy Wise was “holding up as best she could” in light of her husband’s murder.
Cindy Wise told the AP that so far her children, all three of whom she had adopted with her husband, had not yet been able to return to the center. The children are “holding up pretty well for the most part,” said Wise.
“I know that someone will come forward and I know that justice will prevail,” Wise after the Sunday service. “I know that deep down I have to forgive them for taking my husband away from me, and that’s the way it has to be done … to forgive them and continue to pray for their salvation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.