Top GOP Lawmaker Wounded; Gunfire At Baseball Practice

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A rifle-wielding attacker opened fire on Republican lawmakers at a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and several others as congressmen and aides dove for cover. The assailant, prepared with “a lot of ammo,” fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.

Scalise dragged himself off the infield leaving a trail of blood as colleagues rushed to his assistance.

Capitol Police officers who were in Scalise’s security detail wounded the shooter, who was taken into custody. In all, five people were taken to area hospitals, including the suspect, Alexandria police said. The shooter later died of his injuries, President Donald Trump told the nation from the White House.

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A US Capitol Police officer arrives after a shooting during a practice of the Republican congressional baseball at Eugene Simpson Statium Park June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia.
(credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

“Everyone on that field is a public servant,” Trump said. “Their sacrifice makes democracy possible.”

Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader first elected to the House in 2008, was in stable condition and undergoing surgery.

A government official identified the shooter as an Illinois man named James. T. Hodgkinson. The official was not authorized to discuss an investigation by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Texas Rep. Roger Williams, who coaches the GOP team, said that one of his aides, Zack Barth, was shot, but “is doing well and is expected to make a full recovery.”

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Investigators and emergency personnel gather adjacent to Eugene Simpson Field, the site where a gunman opened fire June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he had just left the practice and encountered the apparent gunman in the parking lot before the shooting. The man calmly asked which party’s lawmakers were practicing and Duncan told him they were the Republicans. The man thanked him.

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

The shocking event left the Capitol horrified and stunned. The House canceled proceedings for the day.

The shooting occurred at a popular park and baseball complex in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off, which raises money for charity, was scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park across the Potomac River in Washington.

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.”

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A member of the Alexandria Police and his canine patrol near the site of a morning shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia. U.S. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Barton said the shooting lasted 5-10 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.

FBI special agent in charge Tim Slater said it was “too early to say” whether it was an act of terrorism, or whether Scalise was targeted.

After the gunfire stopped, Sen. Flake, of Arizona, said he ran onto the field and also tried to come to Scalise’s aide. 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.

Falisa Peoples was just leaving the YMCA next to the ball field when she saw the shooter open fire.

“He was just very calm. He was just walking and shooting,” she said of the man, whom she described as white and wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She said he was using a long gun and exchanging fire with law enforcement officers, one of whom yelled for her to get down.

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 shot was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was hit 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.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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