James T. Hodgkinson lived a seemingly comfortable existence back home. He had a wife, friends and a pool where he hosted parties. How and why his life ended on a blood-soaked field halfway across the nation remains largely a mystery to investigators trying to piece together his life.
Anger, plain and simple, seemed to be one driver. A man prone to aggressive outbursts, Hodgkinson had grown increasingly angry at the political order in recent years, lashing out online against President Donald Trump and other Republicans.
On Wednesday, that rage moved from social media to the real world when Hodgkinson opened fire on an early-morning baseball practice for lawmakers. After injuring at least five people, the 66-year-old Hodgkinson was shot and killed.
Investigators searching for a motive are piecing together a timeline of his last months in which neighbors, colleagues and public records show a man’s descent into rage.
A home inspector from Belleville, Ill., Hodgkinson was no stranger to law enforcement. He had a lengthy arrest record and seemed prone to violent fits. Most recently, he had been warned about shooting a high-powered gun in the vicinity of his neighbors’ houses.
William Schaumlefell lives about 150 yards north of Hodgkinson’s property but barely knew his neighbor, whose house was across a cornfield and a stand of white pine. Their closest encounter came in March, when Schaumlefell’s grandchildren, ages 6 and 3, were outside playing on the swings.
“All of a sudden I heard some shots pretty loud,” Schaumlefell told POLITICO. “Then there’s a couple more shots, so I thought, ‘Who the hell’s shooting?’”
It was Hodgkinson. After firing several more rounds, he emerged from the pines carrying a rifle.
“I said, ‘Hey you! Quit that shooting,” Schaumlefell said. “He may not have heard me or he may have heard me, I don’t know. He just didn’t pay attention.”
Schaumlefell called the sheriff, who paid Hodgkinson a visit, found his Illinois gun identification in order and let him off with a warning. Hodgkinson told the deputy he’d take his practice to a shooting range.
The FBI believes Hodgkinson drove to Alexandria, Va., soon after that. There, he lived out of a white van in the city’s quiet Del Ray community and haunted a bar on the town’s main drag, frequently during the day.
“He’d sit there with a slight grin after a few beers. Not a happy smile when I’d glance over at him, but a creepy one,” said Kristina Scrimshaw, a bartender at Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray.
“He was never belligerent or disruptive,” she said, “but I remember feeling that this guy is a little off.”
Hodgkinson, in khakis and polo shirts, frequented the bar often, always keeping to himself and his Budweiser or Pabst Blue Ribbon. He never got angry and he never talked politics.
“He’d just sit there with his old-school beer,” Scrimshaw said.
But there was violence in Hodgkinson’s past. In April 2006, he was arrested on firearms and battery charges after he allegedly punched his girlfriend in the face and pulled a 12-gauge shotgun on a witness, Joel Fernandez, who had attempted to intervene.
“When Fernandez reached the outside porch area, Hodgkinson walked outside with a shotgun and aimed it at Fernandez face,” according to a St. Clair sheriff’s report. “Fernandez attempted to get away from the shotgun and was struck in the left side of his head with the wooden stock by Hodgkinson.”
The incident appeared to involve one of the couple’s foster children. Hodgkinson choked the child and dragged her by her hair, according to the sheriff’s report. His wife, Suzanne, also was charged with domestic battery. The state eventually dropped the charges.
On New Year’s Eve in 1992, Hodgkinson was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, resisting a police officer and fleeing to avoid arrest. All charges were dismissed by a judge.
On his Facebook account, which came under attack from an angry public Wednesday, Hodgkinson lashed out more, railing against Trump and the Republican Party.
“I Want to Say Mr. President, for being an ass hole you are Truly the Biggest Ass Hole We Have Ever Had in the Oval Office,” he wrote Monday on Facebook. That page and another that appears to belong to Hodgkinson were taken down after the shooting.
In 2012, Hodgkinson protested outside the Belleville post office to call attention to wealth and political inequality, calling himself part of the 99 percent, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. He carried a sign that read, “Tax the Rich Like Congress Did for 70 Years Till Reagan’s ‘Trickle Down.’”
St. Clair County is surrounded by communities that voted heavily for Trump in the 2016 presidential election, but Hillary Clinton edged out Trump in St. Clair itself. Hodgkinson was a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders and had volunteered for his presidential campaign.
In a series of letters to the Belleville News-Democrat, he challenged GOP tax policies that he said helped the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. In November 2011 he called for higher taxes on the wealthy.
“I believe it’s time for the 99 percent to demand that our Republican congressmen tax the rich like our great leaders of the past,” he wrote. “Let’s take back our country.”
Ray Page, an electrical contractor from the nearby town of Millstadt, has known Hodgkinson for more than 30 years.
“I’ve never known him to be a violent man,” said Page, who worked with Hodgkinson in the construction business. “We never saw this one coming.”
Hodgkinson and his wife were “very generous” and raised several foster children over the years, Page said.
Hodgkinson also had troubles at his home inspection business, JTH Inspections. His temper got him banned as a contractor for the St. Clair County government in 2003 after he was caught going through a county employee’s desk while the office was closed.
“He was rifling through a desk, said he was looking for a check,” county Chairman Mark Kern said. “He was told to leave. He got vocal and loud. He was told to leave the office. He went downstairs to the bank, and got very loud.”
The episode got him barred from doing business with the county, Kern said.
“He came back in 2012 and requested paperwork to be reinstated, but he never submitted that paperwork,” Kern said. If he had, his request would have been denied, Kern said.
In 2009, Hodgkinson was charged with petty offenses for failing to get an electrical contractor’s license and doing work without a permit. He paid a $100 fine.
He was an affiliate member of the Realtor Association of Southwestern Illinois until 2014. He appears to have been a member of the Carpenters Regional Council, a union that represents building trades workers in Missouri, Kansas, and southern Illinois.
For now, the pieces of his life don’t add up to a whole. The FBI has asked the public for information and people in Belleville are shaking their heads.
“I couldn’t believe it when they said he was the guy that caused all that ruckus in Virginia today,” Schaumleffel said. “Nobody really knew anything about him. They kind of stayed to themselves. They had a boat and a Harley and a nice car and that kind of stuff. It seemed like they were okay people.
“They didn’t bother anybody.”
Natasha Korecki, Darren Samuelsohn, Toby Eckert, Josh Gerstein and Marianne Levine contributed to this report.
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