ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - An apparently lone gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon at a Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, early on Wednesday (June 14) morning, wounding at least four people initial reports said, including at least one congressman and two security men.
The gunman was wounded by return fire from the congressmen’s security detail and then arrested. US President Donald Trump later said he had died from his injuries.
The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, according to law enforcement officials, reported The Washington Post. Hodgkinson, 66, owns a home inspection business. His home inspection license expired in November 2016 and was not renewed, state records show.
Hodgkinson was charged in April 2006 with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle, according to online records in St Clair County, Illinois. The charges were dismissed, records show.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, was among those shot amid total chaos as the gunman apparently used a dugout as cover and fired randomly targeting the Congressmen and their security. Mr Scalise was later reported by a local ABC affiliate to be out of surgery and "doing well".
Some 25 Republican congressmen and senators were at the practice for the game on Thursday (June 15), which raises hundred of thousands of dollars for charity.
According to an eyewitness, the shooting took place at the YMCA baseball fields, by the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park.
At least 50 shots were fired. “The gunfire just seemed to never stop,” Republican congressman Mo Brooks told CNN minutes after the shooting.
The gunman was wounded by return fire from the congressmen’s security police and local police officers. He was described by Mr Brooks, who was in the practice game, as a lone white male.
“He knew who we were, he was going after elected officials” Mr Brooks told CNN from the scene. “I am absolutely sure he was using a rifle.”
The congressman described a horrific scene with people running for cover, and wounded lying around and crawling on the baseball field. He saw Mr Scalise dragging himself off the field leaving a trail of blood.
“I heard Steve Scalise scream” he said. “I heard the bang, I saw the rifle behind the third base dugout. He continued to fire. Steve was on the ground, I didn’t know how bad he was hit. I saw the man himself with the gun.”
“We started giving him the liquids; I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” he said.
Others at the baseball practice included Senator Rand Paul.
“Five or ten Congressmen were hunkered down in the first base dugout” the senator told Fox News on the phone. “Without the Capitol Hill police returning fire it would have been a massacre.
"We are lucky Scalise was there because it was his security detail. We were like sitting ducks, we had no place to run.”
He said he hid behind a tree with a staffer who leapt over a high fence. He added that two congressional staffers were also on the ground, with shots kicking up dirt around them, reported The Guardian.
Representative Mike Bishop of Michigan said Scalise was standing on second base when he was shot. “I was looking right at him,” Bishop told Detroit radio station WWJ. “He was a sitting duck.”
Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, told reporters that Scalise was awake after the shooting, reported The Washington Post.
“He was coherent the whole time,” Flake said. He added that a female member of the Capitol Police security detail was airlifted out and a staffer was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Representative Jeff Duncan said he was at the practice and “saw the shooter”. “Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.
US President Donald Trump issued a statement to say he is monitoring the shooting.
"The Vice-President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected."
Katie Fillus of Alexandria had just gotten out of her car to walk her dogs in the park nearby when she said she heard “very, very loud popping sounds”, reported The Washington Post.
“And I knew a baseball team was practicing, and everybody started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground!’ ”
She said she lay flat in the field as the gunshots grew louder — “like he was walking across the field toward all of us, the gunman, and I was screaming: ‘Can someone help me? I have my dogs and I can’t get behind anything.’ ”
Fillus said a police agent pulled out a gun and tried to shoot back. She was screaming, “ ‘Drop your weapon!’ And he shot her and she fell on the ground.
“She fell on the ground in front of us, and we were all just trying to lay as flat we could. And I belly crawled, dragging through the mud. I got to the car and I ducked under the car and I laid as close as I could under the car to hide from the person. Then the police seemed to come.”
Susanne Stratton, a 28-year-old Alexandria resident, was playing with her dog in the dog park next to the baseball field when the shooting began.
“We heard people yelling to get down. We saw people running, some into the dog park, some jumping over the fence,” she said. She said the people in the dog park immediately got down on the ground and pushed their dogs down, as well.
She said there was a burst of shots, then a brief pause, then more shots — she estimated about 20. “It must have been a semi-automatic,” she said.
Reba Winstead, 43, who lives on street adjacent to ballpark, said she heard about 30 shots fired in bursts and saw two people running down her street in exercise clothes.
“One of the bullets whizzed down our street. That’s when I jumped inside, when I heard the whiz,” she said. “It’s just scary, because you don’t hear shots fired in Alexandria very often.”
Charles Halloran, who lives in Del Ray about a block from the park, arrived at a YMCA at 7.30am next to the baseball field, to discover the scene unfolding.
“Bullet holes in the glass and people were shaking,” Halloran, a former congressional staffer, said in a telephone interview from inside the YMCA. Bullets went through the YMCA’s building and across the building into the pool.
Reports of violence are extremely rare in Del Ray, a quiet, upscale neighborhood known for its shops and art and craftsman-style homes.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, was at the gym on Capitol Hill when he was informed of the shooting, according to two GOP lawmakers who saw him there. They said he immediately stopped his workout and headed out, guided by his own Capitol Police detail, which is always at his side. The lawmakers spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the speaker’s movements.
As Ryan left — and Capitol Police briefly told members about the shooting — the gym quickly quieted and members packed up their belongings to also head to their offices, the lawmakers said.
“Nobody knew what the hell was going on,” one of the Republicans said. “People just left.”
There was one notable departure from the normal level of protection inside the building: Three uniformed officers stood watch outside the first-floor office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican.