After lawmaker shooting, unraveling a trail of political anger left by gunman

APTOPIX Congressman Shot
An FBI team inspects the contents of one of the many bags left at the shooting scene. Capitol officers were praised as heroes. “Without them,” one lawmaker said, “it would have been a bloodbath.”

Law enforcement officials worked Thursday to piece together the final nomadic months of the shooter whose anger toward President Trump apparently erupted in a rage of gunfire that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R., La.) and four others wounded at an Alexandria, Va., baseball field.

Among the many questions for investigators is whether the gunman — James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill. — had long planned Wednesday's assault and possibly studied the movements of lawmakers in the months he spent living in his van in Northern Virginia.

Hodgkinson died after a shootout at the ballfield where Scalise and Republican colleagues were holding a practice for the annual Congressional Baseball Game against Democrats.

As of Thursday morning, Scalise remained in critical condition, according to officials at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Four other people were wounded by gunfire and two of them were still hospitalized, including lobbyist Matt Mika, who also remains in critical condition.

On Thursday morning, FBI agents swarmed through Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood. The baseball field, a parking lot and nearby YMCA facility remained closed, as did some streets in the area. The FBI says Hodgkinson had been living out of his van on East Monroe Avenue near the ballpark.

Hodgkinson reportedly was a regular presence in recent weeks on Mount Vernon Avenue, the main commercial street through the Del Ray neighborhood.

Sara Robishaw, a server at Junction Bakery and Bistro, said she began noticing him about three weeks ago, sitting on a bench in front of the Walgreens drugstore across the street from her shop.

"I felt bad for the guy," she said. "He'd be sitting on the bench all day in the hot sun with his black bag." She said she did not ever see him come into her coffee shop and did not speak to him.

"I thought he was a new homeless person" in the neighborhood, Robishaw said. As an area native, Robishaw is familiar with many of the homeless men and women in the neighborhood, and had not seen him before three weeks ago.

Stephen Brennwald, a lawyer who lives in Alexandria, said he realized after seeing Hodgkinson's photo on the news that he was the same man who had been hanging out for at least the past several weeks in the lobby of a YMCA adjacent to Simpson field. Brennwald said Hodgkinson would regularly show up first thing in the morning — about the same time the shooting took place — and look at his laptop or stare out the window.

"He never worked out. He never talked to anybody. He never did anything," Brennwald said.

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

Hodgkinson had posted anti-Trump rhetoric on his Facebook page and had written letters to his hometown newspaper blaming Republicans for what he considered an agenda favoring the wealthy.

In his letters, he decried income inequality, encouraging the government to tax the rich and supporting President Barack Obama, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. "A strong middle class is what a country needs to prosper," he wrote in one of his letters to the editor. "The only thing that has trickled down in the last 30 years came from Mitt Romney's dog."

Police in Belleville reported responding in March to a complaint that Hodgkinson was shooting at the end of his street, firing 50 rounds "in the pine trees." Police said that he had a valid license for the weapon, and that he agreed to stop when they told him to.

Authorities said Hodgkinson used a rifle and a handgun in Wednesday's attack. They were investigating whether they were obtained legally.

Rep. Mike Bost (R., Ill.), who represents the district where Hodgkinson lived, said that Hodgkinson had contacted his office 14 times via email or by telephone and that although he never made threats, "he was always angry."

The shooting brought temporary displays of unity among lawmakers across America's sharp political divide. But the attack also resonated far beyond the crime itself into possible reckonings over the country's drift toward increasingly angry and uncompromising politics.

A major show of political solidarity was expected Thursday night at the Congressional Baseball Game. Reps. Mike Doyle (D., Pa.) and Joe Barton (R., Texas) — managers of the respective teams — said they will still take to the field Thursday night.

"We're united not as Republicans and Democrats but as United States representatives," Barton said Wednesday after the shooting. "It will be 'Play ball.' "

Officials said there will be additional security at Nationals Park for the 108-year-old event. Last year, an estimated 10,000 people were said to have attended the game, which benefits area charities.

The shooting started at 7:09 a.m. The Republican lawmakers were holding their final practice before Thursday night's game, a traditional event designed to bolster goodwill between two sides of the partisan aisle.

Scalise, who plays second base, was accompanied by members of the Capitol Police's executive protection unit because as majority whip, he is the third-highest-ranking member of the House. His security detail was positioned behind the first base dugout; witnesses said the shooter started on the other side of the diamond.

About 20 people were on the field at the time, many catching fly balls from batting practice, and when the gunfire started, players and onlookers took cover in dugouts, under a sport-utility vehicle or in the open on the ground. Barton, the team manager, said the gunman, dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt, shot at Scalise at second base and fired toward the third baseman, Rep. Trent Kelly (R., Miss.).

Scalise was felled by a bullet to the hip as he fielded grounders at second base, witnesses said. Two other people were struck as the gunman moved methodically around the fence and toward the home-plate backstop. As Scalise crawled across the field, leaving a trail of blood, the gunman advanced toward a dugout, where several people were hiding.

Congressmen said the Capitol Police officers emerged from the dugout, moving toward the gunfire. A woman walking her dog said she heard a female officer scream, "Drop your weapon," before the gunman "shot her and she fell to the ground." House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said the officers "went out into the fire to draw the fire. The shooter was moving toward the dugout where the members were, and they were able to take him down."

Authorities said five people were taken to hospitals, including Hodgkinson. Mika, a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was being treated at George Washington University Hospital, a spokeswoman said.

The House speaker's office identified the injured Capitol Police officers as Special Agents David Bailey, who was treated and released from a hospital, and Crystal Griner, who was struck in the ankle and hospitalized in good condition. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said both are expected to recover fully. Police identified a third officer who participated as Special Agent Henry Cabrera. They did not say which officers fired their weapons.

Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said two city officers who arrived at the scene opened fire, joining Capitol Police officers who already were in a gun battle with Hodgkinson.

Rep. Jack Bergman (R., Mich.), a retired Marine lieutenant general, said the shooter was kept off the field by a chain-link fence, which was locked. "If he had been able to gain entrance to the field, it would have been a whole different story."

Rep. Roger Williams (R., Texas) injured his ankle while helping others take cover.

Williams along with one of his staffers — Zach Barth, who was shot in the leg — described the incident and fear in an interview Thursday morning on NBC's "Today" show.

"I was running for my life," Barth said of how he ran to seek cover from the field to the dugout. Once in the dugout with several other people, he said: "I was trying to keep my head down and prevent anything else from happening."

"We were just trying to stay alive," he said.

Barth was treated and released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.

Williams described how he had just started to hit balls to Scalise when he heard the popping sound of shots being fired. He said he thought it was a car backfiring, but then realized it wasn't and dove for cover in the dugout.

He said there were generations of people inside the dugout, including another congressman's 10-year-old son.

"We bonded that day," Williams said. "It was a scary day."

Scalise has been in Congress since 2008 and represents a district that includes some New Orleans suburbs and bayou parishes. He and his wife have two children.

Scalise's office said in a statement that the congressman was in good spirits and speaking to his wife, Jennifer, by phone before he went in for surgery. Wednesday night, the hospital said Scalise was shot in the left hip and that the bullet fractured bones and struck internal organs. They said Scalise had lost a lot of blood and would need additional surgeries.

On Wednesday evening, the president and first lady Melania Trump visited Scalise and spoke with his wife.

Several congressmen at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria praised the officers who engaged Hodgkinson, including two Capitol Police officers who were injured. One lawmaker said the baseball team members would have been sitting ducks had the gunman been able to make it onto the field.

"It would have been a bloodbath," said Barton, the House member from Texas.

The Washington Post's Amber Phillips, Paul Kane, Dana Hedgpeth and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.