(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) — A gunman wielding a rifle opened fire on Wednesday on Republican U.S. lawmakers practicing near Washington for a charity baseball game, wounding senior Republican leader Steve Scalise and several others before being fatally shot by police.
The shooter, identified as a 66-year-old Illinois man who had vented at Republicans on social media, fired repeatedly at the baseball field in suburban Alexandria, Virginia. He was wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police armed with pistols who were at the scene, lawmakers said.
Scalise, No. 3 in the House of Representatives Republican leadership, was shot in the hip. He was tended to by fellow lawmakers including Brad Wenstrup, an Ohio congressman who is a physician, before being transported to a hospital.
Also wounded were one current congressional aide and one former aide who now works as a lobbyist, officials said. One Capitol Hill police officer also suffered a gunshot wound and another officer suffered a non-gunshot injury, an official said.
The gunman, identified by a senior U.S. official as James Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, died of his injuries. Hodgkinson worked as a home inspector.
His social media presence indicated he was strongly opposed to Republicans, including President Donald Trump. Police and the FBI said it was too early to determine a motive in the shooting or whether the attack was an attempted political assassination.
Trump announced the gunman’s death and called Scalise, a 51-year-old Louisiana congressman, a good friend. Speaking at the White House, Trump said Scalise was “badly injured” but in stable condition and would recover.
“He’s a patriot and he’s a fighter. He will recover from this assault,” Trump said.
Trump, who has been in office since January, also called for unity at a time of sharp political divides in America, saying, “We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
In a show of bipartisan unity, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the floor of the House, “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” The House’s top Democrat Nancy Pelosi echoed Ryan’s message.
Hodgkinson had raged against Trump on social media and was a member of many anti-Republican groups on Facebook including “The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans,” “Terminate The Republican Party,” and “Donald Trump is not my President,” a search of what appeared to be his profile showed.
The shooting happened shortly after 7 a.m., with lawmakers practicing their hitting and fielding a day before the annual charity congressional baseball game pitting Republicans against Democrats. There were 20 House members and two senators present, and the shooting lasted about 10 minutes, said Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the Republican team’s manager.
Barton said there were four Capitol Hill police officers there, and two Alexandria officers arrived within five minutes.
The charity game will go ahead as scheduled at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals Major League baseball team.
Two lawmakers who were at the scene, Representatives Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan, indicated there might have been a political motive in the attack.
Duncan said that as he left the field the man who would later open fire approached him in the parking lot. “He asked me who was practicing this morning, Republicans or Democrats, and I said. ‘That’s the Republicans practicing,” Duncan told reporters. DeSantis gave a similar account.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he had been told that Hodgkinson had served as a volunteer with his campaign.
“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,” Sanders said.
‘HEROISM’ OF POLICE
The shooting took place at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, which is across the Potomac River from Washington.
Brooks told CNN that during batting practice he heard a “bam” and then a quick succession of shots and saw the gunman shooting through the holes in a chain link fence.
When Scalise was shot he went down on the infield between first and second base, then dragged himself into the grassy outfield as the incident unfolded, leaving a trail of blood, Brooks said.
Two Capitol police officers who were at the scene to provide security for the lawmakers engaged the gunman with pistols, Brooks said.
“But for the Capitol police and the heroism they showed, it could very well have been a large-scale massacre. All we would have had would have been baseball bats versus a rifle. Those aren’t good odds,” Brooks said.
Brooks estimated that there were 50 to 100 shots fired.
The shooting was certain to raise again the contentious issue of gun violence in the United States.
At a news conference near the scene of the shooting, Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, urged gun control measures. “This is not what today is about, but there are too many guns on the street,” McAuliffe said, citing a statistic that 93 Americans are killed with guns daily.
Scalise has been a strong opponent of gun control measures and has earned an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association – the influential lobby for expanding gun ownership rights. He has co-sponsored legislation to weaken gun control laws in the District of Columbia.
Wednesday’s incident was the first shooting of a member of the U.S. Congress since January 2011, when Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt at a gathering of her constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
She survived, but six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.