WASHINGTON (CBS/AP/CNN) — A rifle-wielding attacker opened fire on Republican lawmakers at a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, critically wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and several others as congressmen and aides dove for cover. The assailant, prepared with “a lot of ammo,” fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.
Scalise dragged himself off the infield leaving a trail of blood as colleagues rushed to his assistance.
President Donald Trump said in remarks that the gunman died from his injuries. CBS News has identified the shooter as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.
Trump said that “many lives would have been lost without the heroic action” of the Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman.
“We may have our differences but we do well in times like these in times like these that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because above all they love our country,” said Trump, speaking from the White House’s Diplomatic Room. “We can all agree that we are blessed to be Americans that our children deserve to grow up in a nation of safety and peace and that we are strongest when we are unified.”
According to Belleville News-Democrat, Hodgkinson was a Sen. Bernie Sanders supporter who belong to several anti-Republican Facebook groups.
“I Want to Say Mr. President, for being an a** hole you are Truly the Biggest A** Hole We Have Ever Had in the Oval Office,” he wrote on Facebook, according to Belleville News-Democrat.
CBS News reports Hodgkinson volunteered for Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “I am 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.”
A person who knew Hodgkinson says he “wasn’t evil.”
“I just want to let people know that he wasn’t evil, that he was, I guess, tired of some of the politics that were going on,” the person said.
SINGLE RIFLE SHOT TO THE HIP
Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader first elected to the House in 2008, was in critical condition after undergoing surgery.
Doctors say Congressman Scalise sustained a single rifle shot to the left hip. The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.
“He underwent immediate surgery, and an additional procedure to stop bleeding,” said a statement released by MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “He has received multiple units of blood transfusion. His condition is critical, and he will require additional operations.”
The popular and gregarious lawmaker is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative bats when he secured the No. 3 job of House whip several years ago.
Texas Rep. Roger Williams, who coaches the GOP team, said that one of his aides, Zack Barth, was shot, but “is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.” Two Capitol Police officers were also injured but were expected to recover, along with a former congressional aide who was hospitalized.
The gunman had a rifle and “a lot of ammo,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at the practice.
Trump said he was “deeply saddened by this tragedy” and was monitoring developments.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the House floor that “we are all horrified by this dreadful attack.”
“We are united. We are united in our shock, we are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” said Ryan.
The shocking event occurred at a popular park and baseball complex in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off was scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park across the Potomac River in Washington.
The team was taking batting practice when gunshots rang out and chaos erupted.
Scalise was fielding balls on second base when he was shot, according to lawmakers present, then dragged himself into the outfield to get away from the gunman.
Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said his colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”
“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.
Texas Rep. Joe Barton, still in his baseball uniform, told reporters a shooter came out to the practice and opened fire, shooting at Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., who plays third base.
“He shot at Steve Scalise, our second baseman. He hit Steve Scalise,” Barton said, “Scalise’s security detail and the Capitol Hill police immediately returned fire, and Alexandria Police also immediately came and began to return fire. They shot the shooter. The security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter.”
Barton described the shooter as a “middle aged man. Blue jeans and a blue shirt. I think he was anglo. He had a rifle and I think he had an automatic pistol, but I wouldn’t swear to it.”
Barton said the shooting lasted 5-10 minutes, and there were dozens if not hundreds of shots fired.
“It was scary,” Barton said.
Lawmakers took cover in the dugout. Barton said his son, Jack, got under an SUV.
Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., said the gunman asked Rep. Don Desantis and asked if those on the field were Republicans or Democrats.
“He actually saw the shooter who spoke to him and said, ‘Who are those guys?’ And he said, ‘That’s the congressional baseball team.’ He said, What are they: Republicans or Democrats?’ And he said, ‘They are the Republicans.'” Meehan said.
MISSING PRACTICE ON WEDNESDAY
Meehan and another Pennsylvania lawmaker, Ryan Costello, missed the practice Wednesday morning. Meehan said he was at a breakfast or he would have been at the practice. Costello said he missed his ride to the practice by two minutes.
Costello tells KYW Newsradio when he couldn’t find any stragglers in the Capitol gym, he decided to change clothes and begin his work day. But as he was changing, there was a TV on in the room and he learned about the shooting.
Regardless of party of affiliation elected officials say that threats are a part of life.
In a statement a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey said, “Like many others in Congress, Senator Toomey has been the target of threats. In cases where these threats are deemed serious, they are reported to law enforcement.”
“There’s probably not a member of Congress that I’ve spoken to that has not at one point received some horrible threat of physical harm or a death threat,” said Democratic Congressman Donald Norcross
He added that being accessible to the public and constituents will always be a priority of the job.
As for increased security, Congressman Bob Brady feels that the cost burden on taxpayers would simply be unrealistic.
“I don’t think there’s nothing we can legislate to stop an incident like this. I mean there’s been talk about having congressmen and women be protected. That cost is astronomical. That can’t happen,” he said.
FBI special agent in charge Tim Slater said it was “too early to say” whether it was an act of terrorism, or whether Scalise was targeted.
Sen. Flake, of Arizona, said he took cover in the dugout as the gunman and law enforcement exchanged fire. In the dugout, he said, he helped treat one aide who, after being shot in the leg near center field, managed to get there.
After the gunfire stopped, Flake ran onto the field and began to apply pressure on Scalise’s wound. After medical personnel arrived, he said he retrieved Scalise’s phone and made the first call to Scalise’s wife to notify her of the shooting. He said he did so to ensure that Mrs. Scalise would not find out about the shooting through the media.
Flake estimated that more than 50 shots were fired.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the practice, told CNN “it would have been a massacre” had Capitol Police not been present.
“Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “It would have been a massacre without them.”
Scalise, a popular and gregarious lawmaker, is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative baseball bats to fellow lawmakers when he secured the No. 3 job of House whip several years ago.
Katie Filous was walking her two dogs near the field when she heard “a lot of shots.” She said the shooting “went on for quite a while.”
Filous said she saw the shooter hit a uniformed law enforcement officer, who she said was later evacuated by helicopter. She said the officer had gotten out of a parked car, drawn a handgun and shouted something to the gunman, who then fired.
Rep. Jeff Duncan said in a statement that he was at the practice and said “saw the shooter.”
“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.
Susan Griffiths, a spokeswoman at the George Washington University Hospital, said two people from the shooting were being treated at the hospital, both in critical condition.
In a brief interview in a Senate hallway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I think everybody handled it well and things seem to be under control.”
Other lawmakers were stunned in the aftermath of the event, which raised questions about the security of members of Congress. While the top lawmakers, including Scalise, have security details, others do not and regularly appear in public without protection. The last time a lawmaker was wounded was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head and grievously injured while meeting with constituents at a supermarket parking lot in 2011.
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