A gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday morning, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, members of his security detail, a congressional staffer, and a lobbyist in a violent scene that has shaken Washington.
There were no immediate fatalities, but authorities said the gunman later died in the hospital as result of gunshot wounds to the torso that he sustained in an exchange of gunfire with police.
The FBI identified the gunman as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Illinois.
Scalise’s office said Wednesday morning that he was undergoing surgery after being shot in the hip and transported to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) later told reporters the surgery had been completed. The hospital tweeted that Scalise remained in critical condition.
“Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone. He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues,” his office said. “We ask that you keep the Whip and others harmed in this incident in your thoughts and prayers.”
President Donald Trump in a televised address Wednesday morning called Scalise “a very good friend,” “a patriot” and “a fighter,” and said the prayers of his family, the nation and the world were with him.
“We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country. We can all agree we are blessed to be Americans,” Trump said in his statement, delivered from the White House’s Diplomatic Room.
Tim Slater, the FBI special agent in charge of the Washington Field Office, told reporters at a press conference from the scene that it was too early in the investigation to label the incident an act of terrorism or determine whether it constituted an assassination attempt. Likewise, he could not say whether members of Congress had been specifically targeted.
He said Wednesday evening that the FBI believes Hodgkinson had been in Alexandria since March and was living out of his vehicle.
The bureau said in a statement that it is “actively investigating Hodgkinson to include his associates, whereabouts, social media impressions, and potential motivations.”
Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown described the scene to reporters as “not only chaotic” but also “a combat situation.”
The shooting shook Washington off its usual routines. The House canceled its scheduled votes on Wednesday, although Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said votes in that chamber would go on as scheduled. Some committees canceled hearings as well. Visitors to the Capitol on Wednesday also observed increased security in the wake of the shooting.
House Speaker Paul Ryan summoned House members to the floor at noon, where he and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered back-to-back remarks urging a break from the fierce partisanship that divides the town.
“We are all horrified by this dreadful attack on our friends and on our colleagues and those who serve and protect this Capitol,” Ryan said. “We are united in our shock. We are united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
“To my colleagues, you’re gonna hear me say something you’ve never heard me say before: I identify myself with the remarks of the Speaker,” Pelosi said. “We are not one caucus or the other in this House today, but we speak for each other in saying we send our thoughts and prayers to our colleague Steve Scalise.”
Former congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was the victim of a shooting in 2011, described the shooting as “an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy.”
“I am heartbroken for the pain of Congressman Scalise, the other victims, and their family, friends, and colleagues who survived. I am thankful for the great courage of Capitol Police, who were my protectors after I was shot and became my friends,” said Giffords, who was among 19 people wounded during the shooting at a Tucson, Ariz., meet-and-greet at which six people died. “I also know the courage it takes to recover from a shooting like this, and I know Steve and everyone there this morning have such courage in great supply.”
Hodgkinson, the shooter, featured a prominent photo of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on his Facebook page, and Sanders said Wednesday in remarks on the Senate floor that Hodgkinson had volunteered for his 2016 presidential campaign. He offered his prayers for Scalise and the shooting’s other victims, denouncing the attacker who had once supported his White House bid.
“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 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, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.”
Also among those injured was Zack Barth, a legislative correspondent in the office of Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), one of the GOP baseball team’s captains. Williams wrote on Twitter that Barth was “receiving medical attention but doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.”
Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods and a former House GOP aide for Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), was receiving treatment at George Washington University Hospital in Washington after suffering multiple gunshot wounds. His family issued a statement saying had come out of surgery but remained in critical condition.
The hospital, which had previously said two shooting victims were there in critical condition, later amended that statement to announce that one of the patients had died. The hospital did not announce the identities of the patients and would not say if the deceased shooter was one of them.
Two members of the Capitol Police Department’s Dignitary Protection Division, officers charged with protecting Scalise because of his role in House leadership, were also injured. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said in a statement Special Agent Crystal Griner was in “good condition” in the hospital after being shot in the ankle, and Special Agent David Bailey had been released after treatment for a “minor injury.”
Verderosa said the Capitol Police officers on the scene exchanged fire with the gunman. Multiple lawmakers who were at the practice credited Scalise’s protective detail with fighting back against the shooter and stopping him from further harming the otherwise unarmed attendees at the practice.
The FBI also said a second lawmaker “sustained minor injuries and was also transported by a medic unit.” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told reporters that Williams may have sprained his ankle trying to protect people but wasn’t shot. “He has had medical attention,” Barton confirmed.
The lawmakers were practicing for the annual congressional baseball game at a field in Alexandria when the shooting began just after 7 a.m. The game itself, a popular bipartisan event held each summer, is scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park and will go on as planned.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) described on CNN how Scalise was wounded in the shooting, explaining in a phone interview that the GOP whip was among the first to be shot and was hit while standing in the area of second base.
“He’d crawled into the outfield but leaving a trail of blood. We started giving him some liquids,” said Brooks, who was not hit.
Sen. Rand Paul vividly recounted the scene in his own CNN interview, and gave credit to Scalise’s protective detail for saving lives. “Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “He was just killing everyone — he would’ve. It would have been a massacre.”
“And having no self-defense, the … field was basically a killing field. If you were to run out while the killer was still shooting, he could have shot anybody,” he continued.
GOP Rep. John Duncan (R-S.C.), who left the practice before the shooting began, told reporters that he had spoken to a man, believed to be the shooter, as he was departing who asked if the people on the field were Republicans or Democrats. He said he had shared his account with the Alexandria Police Department and that he believed the man he spoke to was the shooter “based on the profile that I saw on TV.”
Brooks identified a handful of other lawmakers in attendance at Wednesday morning’s practice, including Paul, Barton, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Williams. Brooks said Wenstrup, a medical doctor, immediately attended to victims, including Scalise.
“I felt like I was back in Iraq as a surgeon,” Wenstrup, a former combat surgeon in the U.S. Army Reserve, told CBS News.
Brooks told CNN that the gunman fired from behind the field’s third base dugout.
“And I look around and behind third base in the third base dugout, I see a rifle,” Brooks said. “And I see a little bit of a body and then I hear another bam and I realize there is an active shooter. At the same time I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot.”
The Alabama congressman said he never saw Scalise lose consciousness, though there was a 10- or 15-foot trail of blood behind him as he crawled into the outfield.
“The gun was a semiautomatic,” Brooks said. “It continues to fire at different people. You can imagine all the people in the field scatter. I run around to the first base side of home plate. We have a batting cage with plastic wrapped around it to stop foul balls. I was lying on the ground as gunfire continued.”
Worried that the plastic batting cage would do little to protect him and staffers from gunshots, Brooks said he took a gamble to get to cover.
“Heard a break in the gunfire and decided to take a chance. Ran from home plate to the first base dugout for better cover. There were a number of congressmen and congressional staffers who helped us lying on the ground,” he said.
There were approximately 25 members at the field, Flake said. One staffer was shot while on the field, and ran with a wound to the dugout, Flake said.
“He had a lot of ammo,” Flake said, explaining why it took several minutes to get the situation under control. In an interview with reporters at the scene, he estimated that the entire incident lasted around 10 minutes.
“Just a harrowing scene,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who said he ran into a dugout when the shooting started. “If this gunman had come into [the] dugout, we would have been sitting ducks.”
The shooting took place in a neighborhood baseball field near a dog park that was full of early-morning dog walkers. As the shooting started, neighbors on the adjoining streets heard what they described as “dozens” of shots as people in exercise clothing began to flee past their homes.
Virginia House of Delegates member Mark Levine decried the politics that have killed gun control efforts in the state. Asked if it’s the right time to talk politics, he cried out, “Then when is the right time?!”
Trump canceled a planned event at the Department of Labor scheduled for Wednesday, while Pence canceled a morning speech to the National Association of Home Builders. At the group’s annual D.C. gathering, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) called for a moment of silence.
“I thought I was going to come up here and charm you on tax reform, but we’re here on a very different day,” Roskam told those assembled. “Will you just pray for these people and their families.”
In the wake of the shooting, Democrats canceled a press conference announcing a lawsuit against Trump. The Senate also postponed a hearing examining a budget request for the Capitol Police.
Kyle Cheney, Jake Lahut, Heather Caygle, Clea Benson, Negassi Tesfamichael, Toby Eckert, Caitlin Emma, Anna Palmer, Burgess Everett, Nolan D. McCaskill and Diamond Naga Siu contributed to this report.
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