A gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team practicing on a suburban Virginia field Wednesday, critically wounding Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and shooting four other people as horrified legislators and staffers scrambled for cover amid a barrage of bullets.
Capitol Police, who provided security for the practice, engaged the shooter, identified by authorities as James Hodgkinson, 66, from Belleville, Ill. President Trump later said the suspect was killed in the ensuing shootout.
Congressional aide Zachary Barth, Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika, and Capitol Police special agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey also were wounded in the rampage. The agents were hailed as heroes.
“Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault,” Trump said. “Melania and I are grateful for their heroism and praying for the swift recovery of all victims.”
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., also praised the officers.
“Had they not been there it probably would have been a turkey shoot,” he said. “There were, I don’t know, 40, 50 congressmen and senators out there on an open field – very few places to hide.’’
Trump made a visit at 8:45 p.m. ET at Medstar Washington Hospital Center, where Scalise underwent surgery earlier Wednesday. The hospital said in a statement after the surgery that Scalise remained in critical condition and that the bullet that entered his hip “travelled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.” The statement said that Scalise will require additional operations.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., was standing on the third base line and was about to take batting practice when he heard a loud bang behind him. He turned and saw, past a dugout, a middle-aged man pushing a rifle through the chain-link fence, firing toward second base and the outfield.
“He was not saying anything,” Brooks said. “He was just blasting away with his gun, shooting rapidly.”
Bedlam erupted on the field. Brooks heard someone scream “active shooter.” Someone else yelled “take cover.” In the chaos, Brooks heard a yell from Scalise standing at second base.
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said the baseball practice session was almost over when the rampage began on the field shortly after 7 a.m. “I heard a bang, and I thought it sounded like a gun. I never saw a shooter,” he said. “I got bloody running and jumping into the dugout.”
Fleischmann said the practice was attended by House members, senators and their staff, among others. “A lot like me got bloody running for cover,” he said.
“It is just a madhouse here,” Fleischmann added. “It’s horrible. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
St. Clair County, Ill., Sheriff Richard Watson said Hodgkinson is believed to have left his Illinois home four or five weeks ago and had been in the Alexandria area since then.
Deputies last encountered Hodgkinson at his Belleville, Ill., home on March 24, when a neighbor reported gunshots fired in the area, Watson said. Deputies found Hodgkinson with a hunting rifle on his property where he was apparently engaged in target practice, Watson said.
“The guy was very cordial,’’ the sheriff said. “He showed the deputy his firearms identification card. Even though he was on his own property, he told the deputy that he probably should take the rifle to a gun range, just to be safe.’’
On Wednesday morning, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan said he was leaving practice early when the man he believes was the gunman asked him if the players were Democrats or Republicans.
“I told him they were Republicans, he said ‘OK, thanks,’ and turned around,” Duncan told reporters. “I got in the car and left.”
Minutes later he heard about the rampage.
Tim Slater, an FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, said it was too early to say if the shooter was targeting Republicans. Hodgkinson, however, had a history of raging online against President Trump and other Republicans and once singled out Scalise.
“Here’s a Republican that should lose his job, but they gave him a raise,” Hodgkinson allegedly wrote in a 2015 post to his Facebook account. The message was accompanied by a cartoon depiction of Scalise.
In a March 22 Facebook post, Hodgkinson described Trump as a “traitor.”
“Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy,” he wrote. “It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
Former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said Wednesday that he remembers meeting Hodgkinson more than a month ago at the YMCA, adjacent to the baseball field where the attack occurred.
Euille said that Hodgkinson referred to him as “Mr. Mayor’’ and that he would regularly see him at a table at the Y, drinking coffee and using his laptop. He said it didn’t occur to him that the man was the shooter until he saw his photograph in media accounts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying the suspect apparently had volunteered on his presidential campaign. Sanders said he was “sickened by this despicable act.”
“Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” Sanders said. “Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”
Scalise, the third-ranking GOP whip in the House, was shot in the hip and listed in critical condition after surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone,” his office said in a statement. “He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues.”