Congress baseball attack: Louisiana rep critical; gunfire caught on camera

"I guess he was tired of the politics," a friend of the accused gunman said Wednesday.
By Doug G. Ware and Andrew V. Pestano  |  June 14, 2017 at 7:50 PM
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June 14 (UPI) -- A U.S. congressman and a Capitol Police officer were wounded by gunfire Wednesday after a man started shooting at a Republican team charity baseball practice in suburban Washington, D.C. -- an attack that was captured in dramatic video footage.

The Republican team members, preparing for a traditional charity event Thursday night, were practicing at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Va., at around 7 a.m. Wednesday when the gunfire started. Police said the accused gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, had taken a position behind a fence near the baseball diamond.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was critically wounded in the shooting attack, along with a Capitol Police officer. Witnesses said the five-term House representative was hit in the mid-section and rushed into surgery at the MedStar Hospital Center in northwest Washington. A hospital spokeswoman said Scalise, 51, remained in critical condition following his first surgery.

A congressional staffer, Zach Barth, and food industry lobbyist Matt Mika were also wounded by the gunfire. Mika's family said he is also in critical condition. Another lawmaker and police officer also received minor "secondary" injuries, the FBI said at a Wednesday evening news conference. The second injured congressman was not identified.

The FBI said Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., died after he was shot by police.

Two firearms were recovered from the scene -- a 9 mm handgun and a Chinese-made SKS 7.62 mm assault rifle, CNN reported.

A bystander with a cellphone camera happened to be recording at the time the first shots started, and captured the event.

The Washington Post, citing law enforcement officials, reported that Hodgkinson owned a home inspection business but had not renewed his inspection license after it expired in November. In 2006, he was charged with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle.

Hodgkinson was said to belong to multiple anti-Republican political groups and was distressed over the election of President Donald Trump last fall. Last year, he volunteered for the Democratic campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who condemned the attack Wednesday.

"I am sickened by this despicable act," the Vermont senator said. "Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.

"I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

The New York Times ran a story Wednesday that included a photograph which showed Hodgkinson protesting outside an Illinois post office in 2012, with a sign that read, "Tax the rich."

Authorities said Wednesday afternoon that it was too early to determine if the attack was a targeted shooting or an assassination attempt.

"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 after the attack.

"Our brave Capitol Police perform a challenging job with incredible skill and their sacrifice makes democracy possible."

"We are united. We are united in our shock," House Speaker Paul Ryan said. "We are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

Democratic members of Congress, some of whom were also scheduled to practice Wednesday, held a group prayer for their colleagues.

"House Democrats praying for our House GOP [and] Senate GOP baseball colleagues after hearing about the horrific shooting," Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen, D-Nev., wrote on Twitter.

"On days like today, there are no Democrats or Republicans, only Americans united in our hopes and prayers for the wounded," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona lawmaker shot during a 2011 assassination attempt, on Wednesday said her "heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the U.S. Capitol Police -- public servants and heroes today and every day."

The FBI said Hodgkinson had been living out of his vehicle in the Alexandria area since March, and urged the public to come forward with any additional information about the suspect -- including why the Illinois suspect might have been in the D.C. area.

Wednesday's shooting is the 154th mass shooting so far this year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.

Ryan said Thursday's charity baseball game at Nationals Park will be played.

Earlier Wednesday, Scalise's office said the congressman was in stable condition, good spirits, and expressed gratitude for the actions of the Capitol Police officers who were part of his security detail at the baseball park.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attended the practice and said he heard "at least 50 or 60 shots" -- and that Scalise was on second base when he was hit.

"[Scalise] goes down but is moving, and is crawling towards the outfield ... I'm seeing shots skipping off of the warning track," he said.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., described what he said was a "very strange" encounter with a man shortly before the shooting who might have been the shooter.

"I actually left a little early, probably about a couple of minutes before this happened ... there was a guy that walked up to us that was asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there, and it was just a little odd, and then he kind of walked toward the area where all this happened," DeSantis said.

Security was increased at the U.S. Capitol and the White House immediately after the shooting. Both buildings are less than 10 miles away from the Alexandria ballpark.

The FBI is looking into Hodgkinson's recent activities, including inflammatory social media posts that might have belonged to him. Two now-removed Facebook posts that may have belonged to Hodgkinson were highly critical of Trump.

"Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It's Time to Destroy Trump & Co.," a post in March purportedly said, according to NPR.

"He wasn't evil," an acquaintance of Hodgkinson's, Dale Walsh, said Wednesday. "I guess he was tired of the politics."

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