North Little Rock police said they were looking for the two men who accosted Salvation Army Maj. Philip Wise outside the community center about 4:15 p.m. Thursday. No arrests have been made.
The two men fled on foot into a nearby housing development, police Sgt. Terry Kuykendall said Friday. Police don't know whether Wise, who was active in the community, knew his attackers, he said.
Wise, 40, had gone to the community center with his children to pick up his wife - also a Salvation Army major - to drive to his mother's home in West Virginia, said Maj. Harvey Johnson, area commander of the Salvation Army. As Wise neared the side door, two men approached.
Both men were carrying hand guns, police said. One demanded money and shot Wise, Pulaski County Coroner Garland Camper told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Wise's wife, Cindy, was inside the center and called 911.
Blood stained the sidewalk outside the center Friday.
The Wises had just adopted their children - ages 4, 6 and 8 - last year, Johnson said. The three were siblings who came from an abusive family. They were receiving counseling after their father's death, he said.
Kuykendall said the children were standing beside their father when he was shot, but there was apparently no interaction between the youngsters and the two men.
Wise had worked for three years in Baring Cross, a low-income neighborhood troubled by gangs and drugs, Johnson said. He ran youth programs, a food pantry and church services.
"He was involved in the fabric of that community in a lot of different ways," Johnson said.
He described Wise as "a big boy" who played "a big old tuba" in a brass ensemble and used his love of music to try help others. "He encouraged kids in music as an alternative to the life they were living," he said.
Kuykendall said he knew Wise, although they were not close friends.
"Mr. Wise within the last two months had spent so much time raising money so that several hundred children in this community could have a good Christmas, and for this to happen ... on Christmas Eve is just a tragedy," he said.
Wise was originally from Weirton, W.Va., and his wife, Cindy, was from Charleston, W.Va. They met 16 years ago at a Salvation Army school in Atlanta, Johnson said. Both had worked for the Salvation Army ever since.
"He's touched a lot of people," Johnson said. "But who would he have touched if he had been able to live out his career?"