Shooting critically wounds GOP lawmaker

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia—A lone gunman, who was said to be distraught over President Donald J. Trump’s election, opened fire on members of the Republican congressional baseball team at a practice field in this Washington suburb on Wednesday, using a rifle to shower the field with bullets that struck four people, including Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip of the House of Representatives.

President Donald J. Trump and first lady Melania Trump leave after visiting Rep. Steve Scalise (Republican-Los Angeles), who was wounded in the baseball field shooting on Wednesday morning, at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, on June 14.

Trump, in a televised statement from the White House, condemned the “very, very brutal assault” and said the gunman had died after a shootout with police. Law enforcement authorities identified him as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, from Belleville, Illinois, a suburb of Saint Louis.

Two members of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail were wounded as they exchanged fire with the gunman, in what lawmakers described as several chaotic, terror-filled minutes that turned the baseball practice into an early-morning nightmare. One was wounded by gunfire and one suffered other minor injuries.

The tragedy united Republicans and Democrats in shock and anguish.

“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said on Wednesday afternoon.

Standing at second base, Scalise was struck once in the left hip, according to witnesses, and collapsed as the shots rang out, one after another, from behind a chain-link fence near the third-base dugout.

Witnesses said Scalise, of Louisiana, “army crawled” from the infield to the grass as the shooting continued.

His injuries were extensive, and he was in critical condition on Wednesday night, MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in a statement. As the bullet traveled across his body, it broke bones, tore up internal organs and caused major internal bleeding.

Doctors operated immediately, but additional surgery is required, the hospital said.

Trump and his wife, Melania, went to the hospital on Wednesday night, arriving with two large bouquets of white flowers.

The president sat privately with Scalise and spoke with his doctors and wife, Jennifer, for about 15 minutes. He also briefly chatted with Capitol Police officers there before returning to the White House.

“Just left hospital,” Trump tweeted. “Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape—but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”

Local officers arrived at the Alexandria ball field minutes after they received desperate calls for help, including calls from those still under siege at the field, the authorities said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said it would take the lead in the investigation, treating it as an assault on a federal officer.

Tim Slater, special agent in charge of the bureau’s Washington field office, said investigators were “exploring all angles”, but that he could not comment on a motive. Asked whether the shooting was an assassination attempt, he said it was “too early in the investigation to say one way or another”.

The FBI said Hodgkinson had a handgun and a rifle, which he bought in March, according to a law enforcement official. Witnesses described a man with white hair and a beard wielding a long gun as he stood behind the dugout.

“He was hunting us at that point,” said Rep. Mike Bishop, Republican-Michigan, who was standing at home plate when the shooting began.

Bishop said the gunman had seemed to be firing a series of two shots at a time, a firearms technique known as “double-tapping”, sending off bullets that kicked up the gravel on the baseball field as they struck the ground.

“There was so much gunfire, you couldn’t get up and run,” he said. “Pop, pop, pop, pop—it’s a sound I’ll never forget.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was among the lawmakers practicing for the annual charity baseball game, which was still scheduled to take place on Thursday, told CNN that “the field was basically a killing field—it’s really sick and very sad.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, who left the practice just before shooting, said later that he had encountered a man in the parking lot—later identified as the gunman—who “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or a Republican team”.

“I told him they were Republicans,” the lawmaker recalled. “He said, ‘OK, thanks,’ turned around.”

The shooting stunned the capital as it began its workday. Out of caution, Capitol police officials said, they quickly put in place a “robust police presence throughout the Capitol complex”, and the Secret Service added security around the White House.

Ryan addressed his colleagues in the House chamber shortly after noon.

“We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber,” Ryan said, his voice seeming to nearly break at times.

As the magnitude of the episode became apparent, House leaders canceled the day’s votes, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence canceled speeches.

“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” Trump said at the White House shortly after the shooting.

Hodgkinson seemed to be a fervent opponent of Trump. He signed an online petition calling for the president to be impeached, posting it on Facebook with a chilling comment: “It’s time to destroy Trump & co.”

His brother, Michael Hodgkinson, said Hodgkinson traveled in recent weeks to Washington to protest. “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” Hodgkinson said in an interview shortly after he received the news on Wednesday. He said he had not been close to his brother, and that he had not been aware of why he remained in Washington.

The FBI said it appeared Hodgkinson had arrived in the area in March and had been living out of a white van near the field.

Hodgkinson also appeared to be have been fervent fan of Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to a Facebook page with references to the Vermont senator. A LinkedIn page for James Hodgkinson had a profile photo showing Sanders’s famous hair and glasses and the words, “The Dawn of a New Democracy”.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Sanders said he had been told the suspect had volunteered for his presidential campaign. He offered his “hopes and prayers” for the shooting victims.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said. “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. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action.”

Others who were wounded included Zachary Barth, a member of Rep. Roger Williams’s staff, who was struck in the leg by a bullet, and Matt Mika, a former congressional staff member and the director of government relations for the Washington office of Tyson Foods, who was shot twice in the chest.

He was in serious condition. Barth was treated at a hospital and later released.

Two of those who suffered injuries were Capitol Police officers assigned to protect Scalise, the third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership team. Officials identified the two officers as Crystal Griner and David Bailey, both 32. Officials said Griner was shot in the ankle, while Bailey suffered other minor injuries and was treated and released.

Williams, of Texas, praised the two officers as “heroes”, saying their split-second decision to confront the gunman saved many lives.

“We saw two people risk their lives to save others. We saw courage in the face of death,” Williams said in a news conference on Wednesday evening. “There could have easily been 25 deaths or more today.”

 

 

 

Image Credits: Sam Hodgson/The New York Times, Doug Mills/The New York Times



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