House Majority Whip Critical After Shooting

Police near the scene where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., was shot during a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., on June 14, 2017. (Photo by Britain Eakin/CNS)

(CN) — House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was among five people shot Wednesday when a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Scalise was taken after the shooting, tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the Republican “was critically injured and remains in critical condition.”

Two police officers and three others were also reportedly wounded in what authorities say was a “deliberate attack.” The lone gunman, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, was shot and taken to a DC-area hospital where he died of his wounds.

Hodgkinson, 66, lived in Belleville, Ill., where he ran a home-inspection business out of his home, he was a volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, and he was apparently distraught of the election of President Donald Trump.

In brief remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Trump opened by announcing Hodgkinson’s death. He then called Scalise a “friend … a patriot and a fighter” and said he spoke to the congressman’s wife,  Jennifer Scalise, and “pledged to her our full and absolute support — anything she needs. We are with her and with the entire Scalise family.”

The president also called for unity from the American people.

“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.

“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 and when we work together for the common good,” he said.

Shortly after the president spoke, Sen. Sanders released a statement in which he said, “I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders continued. “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, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

“My hopes and prayers are that Representative Scalise, congressional staff and the Capitol Police Officers who were wounded make a quick and full recovery. I also want to thank the Capitol Police for their heroic actions to prevent further harm,” the senator concluded.

In this April 17, 2012, photo, James Hodgkinson protests outside of the United States Post Office in Downtown Belleville, Ill (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat, via AP)

Several members of Congress and congressional aides had gathered shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday morning at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., just outside of Washington, while lawmakers practiced for a charity baseball game played between Republicans and Democrats every year.

According to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., he was on deck about to hit batting practice on the third-base side when he heard shots fired.

“And I look around and behind third base in the third base dugout, which is cinderblock, I see a rifle. And I see a little bit of a body and then I hear another ‘blam’ and then I realize there’s an active shooter.”

Brooks said he heard Scalise scream and then took cover behind a batting cage and later the first base dugout.

He also said a member of the congressional security detail returned fire.

“There were members of congress on their cell phones screaming for re-enforcement,” Brooks said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R- Ariz., speaking to reporters on the scene, also said lawmakers and aides took cover in the dugouts at the field and that security personnel engaged the shooter.

Flake said one of the security officers was shot in the leg, though the senator believes it was that officer who eventually took down the shooter.

Flake said the incident lasted “at least” 10 minutes and that he called Scalise’s wife from the scene using the lawmaker’s phone.

Flake said Scalise was shot in the hip and fell near second base, but eventually dragged himself into the outfield.

Witness David Woodruff, still shirtless and dressed in running gear from an early morning run, told reporters he heard a “rapid succession” of noisy gunfire that echoed off nearby buildings.

When asked if he thought it was a semiautomatic weapon, Woodruff said he thought so.

“I’m not a gun expert but it had to have been the way it was happening so fast – just one right after another,” he said.

He said heard an initial burst of 12 – 14 gunshots, followed by what he first described as 5 or 6 additional shots after that, which he said could have been from Capitol Police officers.

He later described the second volley as consisting of 4 or 5 shots.

“It sounded as though it might have been a different caliber,” he said.

Woodruff said did not see the gunman or the officers who engaged the man.

David Woodruff, who was out running at the time of the shooting, tells reporters what he saw and heard as the incident transpired. (Photo by Britain Eakin/CNS)

“I immediately ducked into a building and called 911 and then sheltered in place for a few minutes and then came back up and saw members of Congress then walking back and around and U.S. Capitol Police arrived on the scene,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff said he had been out for a run this morning and heard the first 14 gunshots as he was running right next to the baseball diamond.

At the time, he said he had no idea that it was members of Congress playing baseball, adding that he found it a bit out of place that early in the morning.

He only realized once he emerged from the parking garage he had ducked into.

“At first I was in a mild state of disbelief,” Woodruff said. “I kept running, heard a window break in a car that was right next to me, again from an errant bullet, ran again and then heard that second volley and at that point realized I needed to get out of there,” he said.

When he emerged from the parking garage, Woodruff recalled seeing a steady stream of Alexandria and Capitol police officers, and FBI arrive quickly on the scene.

Woodruff says a U.S. Parks police helicopter arrived about five or six minutes after the shots rang out, which he said came back twice to Medivac two of the victims out.

Woodruff says he worked on Capitol Hill for about 10 years and described the area as a “bedroom community for Capitol Hill.”

He has lived in the neighborhood for about 10 years and said Simpson Field is an integral part of the community.

“My son was playing baseball on it last night,” Woodruff said. “Certainly something like this isn’t something we’re used to.”

“It’s certainly shocking any time you see something like this happen. What’s especially frustrating, especially tragic – this is exactly what voters want their members of Congress to do,” he added.

“They want their members of Congress to reach across the aisle, to work with Republicans to work with Democrats – the Congressional baseball game is a great tradition,” he continued.

“It’s a great opportunity for members of Congress to get to know one another, get to know people that aren’t in their state, aren’t in their committees. But more importantly, folks that aren’t in their party.”

Scalise’s office confirmed Wednesday morning that the lawmaker was shot in the hip during the practice and taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center where he underwent surgery.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., said on Fox News that after he left the practice a man walked up to him and asked whether the people in the field were Republicans or Democrats.

DeSantis said the man who approached him was not holding anything and that he has let police know about the conversation.

A crush of media gathered on Monroe Avenue in Alexandria, just up the street from where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, awaiting an update on the investigation. (Photo by Britain Eakin/CNS)

“It was just a little odd and then he kind of walked toward the area where all this happened,” DeSantis said on Fox News.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., told reporters outside of a members briefing that he also believes he spoke with the shooter when leaving practice around the same time as DeSantis.

Duncan said the man was wearing a “reddish” shirt when he approached the lawmaker and asked if it was Republicans or Democrats practicing on the field. Duncan did not initially think it was unusual, though he said the man looks like the suspect being shown on television.

“I’m shaken up,” Duncan told reporters. “My colleagues were targeted today by somebody that wanted to kill them.”

Hodgkinson frequently took his grievances about the 2016 election to Facebook, where, before his page was deleted Wednesday, he called President Trump a “traitor” and a threat to Democracy.

Court records show that Hodgkinson’s legal trouble started in the 1990s with arrests for resisting police and drunken driving.

His most serious problems apparently came in 2006, when he was arrested on a battery charge.

The Associated Press reported Hodgkinson had not been involved in any legal cases since 2011.

But if he became less of a presence in court in recent years, he evidently was well-known to readers of his hometown newspaper,  the Belleville News-Democrat, which published nearly two dozen letters between 2010 and 2012.

In those letters, Hodgkinson compared the economic conditions of the time to those that preceded the Great Depression and excoriated Congress for not increasing the number of tax brackets and taking other tax reform measures.

“I don’t envy the rich; I despise the way they have bought our politicians and twisted our laws to their benefit,” he wrote in May 2010.

On March 4, 2011, he wrote that Congress should rewrite tax codes to ease the tax burdens of the middle class.

“Let’s get back to the good ol’ days, when our representatives had a backbone and a conscience,” he wrote.

He was also evidently a fan the Occupy Wall Street protesters, writing that the demonstrators “are tired of our do-nothing Congress doing nothing while our country is going down the tubes.”

He also once wrote that his favorite show was Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program and writing that he believed MSNBC provided “a better, balanced opinion,” than Fox News.

The FBI arrived at Hodgkinson’s house Wednesday afternoon, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, which sits at the end of a gravel lane across from a cornfield.

One of Hodgkinson’s neighbors angrily confronted reporters, telling them to get off the property. Later, neighbors blocked the street with sawhorses.

“It’s got me upset, I’m shaking right now … that he did this,” Dale Walsh, one of Hodgkinson’s neighbors told the Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know why he did it, but apparently in his mind it was something he had to do, I guess.”

Walsh told the Post-Dispatch that never talked about politics with Hodgkinson, but added: “The politics going on now is affecting a lot of people, and I guess he finally got to the end of his string. And he’s where he is right now. And he doesn’t have to worry about politics no more.”

Alexandria Police Department Chief Michael Brown said at a news conference that officers with the Capitol Police and the Alexandria police received a call at 7:09 a.m. with reports of an active shooter, and that Alexandria police officers arrived on the scene within three minutes.

“Two of our officers engaged in gunfire and returned fire,” Brown said.

Brown confirmed that five people were transported to the hospital after the incident. He declined to give their names, say where they had been transported to, or describe the nature of their injuries.

Brooks said several congressmen and staffers were lying on the ground after the incident, although he could not say how many were actually wounded. He did say he used his belt as a tourniquet to aid one of the victims.

Shortly after the shooting, several House representatives tweeted their well wishes to Scalise and the other victims:

Rep. Dan New House, “Praying for my friend @SteveScalise, Capitol Police officers, and everyone affected by this morning’s shooting.”

Rep. Jim Renacci, “Devastated to hear what happen to my friend @SteveScalise  & hardworking staff who were practicing for a bipartisan charity baseball game.

Rep. Todd Rokita, “Many of those on the practice field today are my friends. @SteveScalise is a leader, a mentor and a good friend to me. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone on that field today. I want to thank our law enforcement officers for responding quickly to the situation.”

Rep. Darrell Issa, “Asking you to join me in prayer for @SteveScalise, @CapitolPolice, their staff and others at the Congressional baseball game practice this AM.”

Brown said the Alexandria Police Department is working with the FBI to collect evidence and witness statements, and collaborating with the Capitol Police and Alexandria Sheriff’s Department.

Capitol Police chief Matthew Verderosa said some of his officers on scene also engaged a suspect in gunfire before the Alexandria police officers arrived shortly thereafter to assist.

Brown and Verderosa both declined to take questions from reporters.

“This is an active, ongoing investigation,” Brown said. “We call the crime scene hot because we’re collecting evidence and it would be premature for us to respond any further.”

Brown called the situation stable.

“There’s no additional threat, we consider this incident to be a closed incident under investigation,” Brown said.

Brown said he would provide additional details at another press conference later this morning.

The Congressional baseball game is a yearly tradition where Republicans and Democrats play a game to raise money for charity. This year’s game is set to take place in National’s Park on Thursday night. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Wednesday that the game will still go on despite the shooting.

During a specially-called House session, Ryan said the prayers of all its members are with those who were injured and our now recovering from the assault. He also thank the first responders who converged on the scene for their “tremendous bravery.”

“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said, prompting a full House chamber to give a standing ovation.

Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., became emotional when describing the congressional baseball game and what it means to the caucus. Meehan, who pitches for the Republican team, was not at Wednesday’s practice, having thrown the day before.

“The camaraderie we have in the mornings when we are there is such a change from the pressures that we all feel on a regular basis and it’s sort of a return to the fun things,” Meehan told reporters on Wednesday. “You know, Scalise is the Whip, but out there on the field we treat each other like we’re back in high school again.”

Meehan said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, gave him a hug outside the all-members meeting on Wednesday. Meehan said he and Ryan have had an ongoing joke ever since Meehan struck the Ohio Democrat out with a curveball.

“It tells you how much we share that’s just something away from this,” Meehan said.

The security personnel who took down the shooter were at the practice because Scalise, a member of the GOP leadership team in the House, receives a security detail that sits in the stands during practice.

Members who are not on the leadership team do not receive additional security, though Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said the idea of providing additional security to members is being reviewed.

Britain Eakin and Brandi Buchman contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.; Joe Harris contributed to it from St. Louis. Supplemental material and Hodgkinson photo provided by AP.

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