Virginia shooting: 'It was bedlam': An explosion of gunfire, and near third base, a man with a rifle

VIDEO: REUTERS
Representative Joe Barton (keft) and Representative Patrick Meehan speak to the media about the shooting.
Representative Joe Barton (keft) and Representative Patrick Meehan speak to the media about the shooting.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST) - The Republican lawmakers and their aides had nearly finished batting practice at an Alexandria, Virginia, park on Wednesday (June 14) when they heard a single crack through the sticky early-morning air. For a moment, they wondered what it was.

Then came an explosion of gunfire, and there, near third base, was a man with a rifle.

One round hit Steve Scalise, the majority whip from Louisiana, in the hip, dropping him to ground. He screamed, then dragged himself to the grass outfield as a trail of blood streaked across the dirt.

Representative Mo Brooks fell to the ground next to home plate before realising that, if the gunman moved, he would be an easy target. He got up and dove into the first-base dugout, where about a dozen people had taken cover.

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Inside was Zack Barth, a legislative aide who, after being struck in the leg, had hobbled over across the field.

“It was bedlam,” Brooks said.

The 10-year-old son of Representative Joe Barton, who coaches the team, dove for cover under an SUV. Some people sprinted into the nearby dog park as others leaped the fence and fled.

Terrified, the lawmakers watched as the gunman, who was wearing jeans and a blue shirt, moved methodically from near the third-base dugout to behind home plate as he fired round after round.

On Fox, Senator Rand Paul, described the scene as “sort of a killing field.”

But almost immediately, Senator Jeff Flake, noticed someone returning fire near the dugout.

“Are you friendly? Are you friendly?” Flake screamed.“Yes,” the man shouted back.

 

Two members of Scalise’s security detail, witnesses said, were shot – but one still kept firing as he dropped to the ground. The other, a woman, was eventually evacuated by helicopter with a serious wound.

Matt Mika, a lobbyist, was struck in the chest, leaving a wound that Flake described as “pretty severe.” He later underwent surgery.

As the shooting continued, bullets shattered windows at the adjacent YMCA.“People were shaking,” said Charles Halloran, who lives about a block form the park.

Because the chain-link fence around the park was locked, the shooter couldn’t get onto the field, said Representative Jack Bergman. He watched as the gunman – identified as James T. Hodgkinson from Belleville, Illinois – moved “methodically” from near the third-base dugout toward the backstop behind home plate.

Falisa Peoples-Tittle had just finished teaching an exercise class at the YMCA and was walking to her car in the parking lot when she heard the shots.

The shooter, who she saw duck several times, was near a set of stairs about 15m from the officers.

When the gunfire stopped and Flake heard someone say the shooter was down, he sprinted out to Scalise. He pressed his hand against the wound until a group cut away his uniform and a doctor applied gauze to stem the bleeding.

“I got his phone and called his wife, just to make sure she didn’t hear the news before,” Flake said. “So, fortunately, she hadn’t, and I was able to tell her that he looked to be stable and we were with him.”

By mid-morning, Scalise had come out of surgery.

Still wearing his baseball uniform – a red and white baseball shirt imprinted with “Republicans” - Flake remained shaken as he walked to his car near the field.

One person, standing on his balcony overlooking the baseball field, yelled: “We’re glad you’re safe, Jeff.”