Gunman dies after critically wounding top House GOP leader

This photo from Facebook shows James T. Hodgkinson, identified by officials as the man who shot at legislators and others during baseball practice in Alexandria, Va. He has died from his injuries, officials said.

WASHINGTON — A gunman unleashed a barrage of gunfire Wednesday at a park in Alexandria, Va., as Republican members of Congress held a morning baseball practice, wounding five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

President Trump said the suspected gunman — identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson III, 66, from Illinois — was killed in a shootout with police, two of whom were wounded in the gun battle.

Scalise was critically injured and remained in critical condition as of Wednesday night, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. The hospital said he would require "additional operations."

The wounded also include a congressional aide, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers.

As people offered prayers for the victims, a profile began to emerge of Hodgkinson, a onetime home inspector. A Facebook page believed to be Hodgkinson's includes pictures of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and rhetoric against President Trump including a post that reads: "Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It's Time to Destroy Trump & Co."

In remarks made from the White House shortly before noon, Trump called for unity and commended the injured officers.

"Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault," Trump said.

Trump said he spoke with Scalise's wife and offered his full support to the congressman's family. He called Scalise a friend, patriot, and fighter and thanked the first responders who aided all the public servants on the field that morning.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited Scalise on Wednesday night. The first couple spent less than a half hour at the hospital before returning to the White House. After his visit, Trump tweeted calling for prayers for the congressman.

"We may have our differences but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation's capital is here because above all they love our country," Trump said.

The incident unfolded shortly after 7 a.m. during the final practice before Thursday night's scheduled charity game between Republicans and Democrats at Nationals Park. Players and bystanders described a horrific and prolonged attack in which wounded police officers returned fire, and Scalise, felled by a bullet to his hip, crawled across the field to get out of harm's way.

Scalise's office said the congressman underwent surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Rep. Roger Williams (R., Texas) was shot but expected to make a full recovery.

Matt Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was taken to a local hospital, according to a company spokesman. Mika’s family said the lobbyist was shot multiple times and was in critical condition and in surgery.

Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said his two wounded officers are in good condition and have not suffered any life-threatening injuries.

Speaker Ryan identified the wounded Capitol Police officers as David Bailey and Crystal Griner.

The FBI is taking over as lead on the investigation; Verderosa said "it's going to take a while to sort through all the details." Tim Slater of the FBI said it is "too early to tell whether anyone was targeted. . . . It's really raw now. We're exploring all angles."

But Hodgkinson's political statements were immediately examined as a possible motive.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.) told reporters that he spoke briefly with a man he believes was the shooter, and he "asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team." Duncan added, "I told him they were Republicans. He said, 'OK, thanks,'  [then] turned around."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said Hodgkinson volunteered on his Democratic Party presidential campaign and denounced the shooter's actions.

"I am sickened by this despicable act," Sanders said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.

Robert Becker, who served as the Iowa director of Sanders' presidential campaign, said Hodgkinson had no formal role on the campaign and that he couldn't find anyone who remembered him. "We had approximately 100 paid organizers on staff," Becker said. "He was not one of them."

Becker said ahead of the caucuses, about 10,000 people volunteered for Sanders at varying points.

"No one seems to remember this guy," Becker said.

Those who frequent the area around the baseball field in Alexandria said Hodgkinson had recently become fixture in neighborhood, reporting he was living out of a gym bag and often at the local YMCA a laptop staring out a window in the lobby.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it is conducting emergency traces on one rifle and one handgun.

Scalise's office, in a statement, said the congressman was out of surgery by 10:30 a.m. The statement described the whip, before surgery, as in good spirits and speaking to his wife, Jennifer, by phone. "He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues," the statement said.

Scalise, who has been in Congress since 2008, represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. Before entering Congress, he was a lawmaker in Louisiana for eight years. Scalise and his wife have two children and live in Jefferson, La.

Scalise, 51, is the third-highest ranking House Republican and has a round-the-clock Capitol Police detail.

The gunman had a rifle and “a lot of ammo,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at the practice.

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) said Capitol Police told him that the gunman was targeting Republicans.

Security has been increased for lawmakers in the aftermath of the shooting, according to Brady, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Administration, which oversees the Capitol Police.

In Washington, heavily armed Capitol Police cleared the East Plaza in front of the Capitol. Tourists and visitors were redirected and only staff were being allowed.

The shocking event left the Capitol horrified and stunned. The House canceled proceedings for the day. Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California both spoke on the floor issuing calls for unity. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said.

The shooting occurred at a popular park and baseball complex in Alexandria, Va., where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity.

The team was taking batting practice when gunshots rang out and chaos erupted.

Scalise was fielding balls on second base when he was shot, according to lawmakers present, then dragged himself into the outfield to get away from the gunman.

Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said his colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”

“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.

Texas Rep. Joe Barton, still in his baseball uniform, told reporters a shooter came out to the practice and opened fire, shooting at Rep. Trent Kelly (R., Miss.), who plays third base.

“He shot at Steve Scalise, our second baseman. He hit Steve Scalise,” Barton said, “Scalise’s security detail and the Capitol Hill police immediately returned fire, and Alexandria Police also immediately came and began to return fire. They shot the shooter. The security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter.”

Barton described the shooter as a “middle aged man. Blue jeans and a blue shirt. I think he was Anglo. He had a rifle and I think he had an automatic pistol, but I wouldn’t swear to it.”

Barton said the shooting lasted 5 to 10 minutes, and there were dozens, if not hundreds, of shots fired.

“It was scary,” Barton said.

Lawmakers took cover in the dugout. Barton said his son, Jack, got under an SUV.

Sen. Flake, of Arizona, said he took cover in the dugout as the gunman and law enforcement exchanged fire. In the dugout, he said, he helped treat one aide who, after being shot in the leg near center field, managed to get there.

After the gunfire stopped, Flake ran onto the field and began to apply pressure on Scalise’s wound. After medical personnel arrived, he said he retrieved Scalise’s phone and made the first call to Scalise’s wife to notify her of the shooting. He said he did so to ensure that Mrs. Scalise would not find out about the shooting through the media.

Flake estimated that more than 50 shots were fired.

Scalise, a popular and gregarious lawmaker, is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative baseball bats to fellow lawmakers when he secured the No. 3 job of House whip several years ago.

Rep. Ryan Costello (R., Pa.) was supposed to be at the GOP baseball practice, but he missed his ride by two minutes.

Had he made it, the congressman from Chester County would have played shortstop, right next to Scalise.

“I was supposed to be there. I know exactly what I’m looking at,” Costello said by phone as he watched for information about the shooting on morning news shows. He later texted: “I have chills all over me.”

Rep. Pat Meehan, of Delaware County, also plays on the Republican team but also missed this morning’s practice for another event, according to his spokesman.

Camera icon J. scott applewhite / AP
Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas), with Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.), arrives on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a security briefing after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice.

Katie Filous was walking her two dogs near the field when she heard “a lot of shots.” She said the shooting “went on for quite a while.”

Filous said she saw the shooter hit a uniformed law enforcement officer, who she said was later evacuated by helicopter. She said the officer had gotten out of a parked car, drawn a handgun and shouted something to the gunman, who then fired.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.) said in a statement that he was at the practice and said “saw the shooter.”

“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.

Susan Griffiths, a spokeswoman at the George Washington University Hospital, said two people from the shooting were being treated at the hospital, both in critical condition.

Charles Halloran, who lives in Del Ray about a block from the park, arrived at a YMCA at 7:30 a.m. 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.

One witness tweeted photos from the YMCA:

Reports of violence are extremely rare in Del Ray, a quiet, upscale neighborhood known for its shops and art and craftsman-style homes.

Anger about his own colleagues being attacked was evident in the words of Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa), who stopped by the crime scene to pray.

"America has been divided," he said, "and the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it's coming from the left." King did indicate it was impossible to separate the hyperpartisan climate in Washington — especially people protesting President Trump — with Republican members of Congress being gunned down at a baseball scrimmage.

"The divisions within the country, people that can't accept the results of the election that are determined to try to take this country down, take this organization down," King said. "This city was filled up with demonstrations the day after the inauguration, where you couldn't drive down the streets."

Brooks said he believed the shooting was targeted.

"I can't imagine him going here for any other reason than to kill as many congressmen as they can," he said. "We understand we're high-profile targets."

In a brief interview in a Senate hallway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I think everybody handled it well and things seem to be under control.”

Other lawmakers were stunned in the aftermath of the event, which raised questions about the security of members of Congress. While the top lawmakers, including Scalise, have security details, others do not and regularly appear in public without protection. The last time a lawmaker was wounded was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head and grievously injured while meeting with constituents at a supermarket parking lot in 2011.

Following the Giffords shooting, lawmakers have held fewer open town halls and have been advised to increase security at such events.

Staff writers Chris Brennan and Jonathan Tamari contributed to this report, as did the Associated Press.