On 14 June 2017 a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress who were practicing for a charity baseball game just after 7 a.m. at a park in Alexandria, Virginia. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who is the House Majority Whip, was wounded along with a U.S. Capitol Police officer, a staffer, and a lobbyist.
Two congressmen who left the practice early told reporters they believe they encountered the gunman in the parking lot of the park, who had asked them whether Republicans or Democrats were on the field.
South Carolina Republican representative Jeff Duncan told CNBC he and Rep. Ron De Santis (R-Fla.) were headed for a meeting when the man approached them. Duncan told the station:
And as we were walking through the parking lot to our car we were approached by a gentleman who asked if the team on the field was the Republican or the Democrat team and we said, ‘the Republican team.’ He said, ‘K thanks,’ and there was nothing earth shattering about it. This is a park, as you heard earlier, people are walking dogs, they’re exercising, this was before work. This is a city recreation area, YMCA right beside it. And for seven years that I’ve played Congressional baseball, we’ve seen a lot of the citizens of Alexandria come out to exercise. And some will stand at the fence and watch us practice.
De Santis gave Fox News a similar account, saying he thought the man’s approach and questions were “a little odd.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has told us that they cannot confirm whether the man who approached the two lawmakers was the same person who opened fire on the players. However, the New York Times reported that the man who spoke to Duncan and De Santis was “later identified as the gunman.”
The shooter has been identified as James Hodgkinson, age 66, from Belleville, Illinois. According to an FBI statement, authorities are running a trace on two weapons, a handgun and a rifle.
Initial reports indicate Hodgkinson, who died from wounds he received during a shootout with authorities, was a supporter of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic candidate for president who challenged Hillary Clinton before she won the Democratic nomination. Hodgkinson was highly critical of Republicans and President Trump and had a history of violent encounters.
According to the Daily Beast, Hodgkinson punched his foster daughter’s friend in the face with a closed fist, then fired a shot at her boyfriend. The friend, Aimee Moreland, recounted the terrifying incident:
“[Hodgkinson] fired a couple of warning shots and then hit my boyfriend with the butt of the gun,” Moreland told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hodgkinson was also “observed throwing” his daughter “around the bedroom,” the police report said. After the girl broke free, Hodgkinson followed and “started hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and started grabbing her off the bed.” …
When Moreland tried escaping with Hodgkinson’s daughter in a vehicle, Hodgkinson reached inside and “turned off the ignition,” the report said.
“We were panicked and when I tried to reverse, I hit neutral instead and he opened my car door and hit me, and then came to her car door and pulled out a knife and cut her seatbelt and dragged her out,” Moreland said. “She was only 15 or 16, I think. She was so tiny.”
Charges stemming from the incident were dismissed on technicalities. Moreland said she mistakenly failed to appear on time for a court hearing.
Sanders made a statement acknowledging that Hodgkinson had volunteered on his campaign and decried the violence:
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. 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.
Former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille told The Washington Post that when he went to the nearby YMCA to work out in the mornings, he often saw Hodgkinson there and realized he was “living out of his gym bag.” He described Hodgkinson as friendly and had tried to help him locate jobs. Euille told the Post that a YMCA staffer informed him Hodgkinson had been there the morning of the shooting, but left just before 7 a.m.
The hospital treating Scalise tweeted on 14 June that he was in critical condition.