'It Would Have Been a Massacre' Without Cops, Says Sen. Paul
June 14--ALEXANDRIA, Virginia -- A gunman opened fire on a group of GOP lawmakers preparing for a charity baseball game in Alexandria early Wednesday morning, injuring House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others before being taken into custody.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, who was among the members of the GOP baseball team, treated Scalise, who was shot in the hip and in reported in stable condition after undergoing surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Wenstrup served as a combat surgeon and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq from 2005 through 2006.
President Donald Trump said in a nationally televised speech that the gunman died at the hospital after being shot by police.
Trump described Scalise as a "very good friend" who will "recover" from the gunshot wounds.
Trump also said that "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."
He also called for unity: "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."
Just five hours after the shooting, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, said he was horrified, and that "an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us." He, too, called for unity, saying that despite the fury, "we are one family."
He identified the other victims as congressional aide Zack Barth, lobbyist Matt Mika, Special Agent David Bailey and Special Agent Chrystal Greiner.
The man who opened fire is James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., according to law enforcement officials, the Washington Post reported. Hodgkinson, 66, was an ardent progressive who worked on behalf of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders during last year's presidential campaign, according to the Post.
"He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics," a fellow campaign worker told the Post. "He was more on the really progressive side of things."
He owns a home inspection business, but his 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, Ill. The charges were dismissed, records show.
Sanders issued a statement shortly after noon: "I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values."
Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina said he left the GOP practice early when he ran into what turned out to the the gunman. Duncan said the man asked him whether the congressional members were Democrats or Republican, and Duncan replied the latter.
Tim Slater, who is in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said "it is too early to say" what the motives of the shooter might be, including terrorism -- or even whether the gunman specifically targeted members of Congress.
Chief Matthew Verderos of US Capitol Police said the wounded officers are in good condition.
"Our officers acted heroically today," he said. "It may take awhile to sort through all the details."
Witnesses described moments of horror during an otherwise balmy, idyllic morning just a few miles from the nation's Capitol. The lawmakers were practicing at Simpson Field, a stretch of athletic fields next to a YMCA where neighborhood children often flock for Little League or soccer practice.
Katy Filous, a Columbus native who now lives in Old Town Alexandria, said she had taken her four dogs to the area's dog park, trembling as she recalled hearing loud popping sounds and seeing puffs of dirt on the baseball field.
People screamed to hit the ground. Filous, who had scratches on her legs, lay flat in a field with her dogs, belly crawling eventually to a nearby car that she tried to hide under to avoid being hit.
"People were screaming, 'He has a rifle, he has a rifle,'" she said.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, described a surreal scene in which lawmakers ducked into the dugout to avoid being shot. The man, who Brooks described as slightly chubby, middle-aged and white, kept approaching with a rifle.
Scalise, he said, dragged himself from a dirty infield to the grass outfield, leaving a trail of blood behind him, as lawmakers could do nothing but watch from behind a low wall in the dugout.
"We were helpless," he said. Although local police arrived within three to five minutes, he said it felt like it took much longer.
When police took down the gunman, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, was the first out of the dugout, Brooks said. Three or four other lawmakers followed. Wenstrup, a podiatric surgeon, began to prepare to cut off the pants to get better access to the wound while Brooks tried to stop the bleeding.
"We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip," Brooks said.
The Capitol Police officer assigned to protect Scalise as the House GOP whip, Brooks said, "hobbled out" with a limp. He, too, had been shot.
"He was loyal to the person he's assigned to protect," Brooks said.
Another member of the team, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, told CNN the "field was basically a killing field."
"Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police," Paul said. "He was just killing everyone. It would have been a massacre."
In the YMCA, Ryan Walsh, 19, and Alex Heimberg, 19, were in the basement weight room when they heard popping sounds. A man suddenly sprinted down the stairs screaming that there was an active shooter in the parking lot.
The two friends rushed with others into an adjacent locker room. They huddled there for 20 minutes along with about 10 others. Their reactions ranged from terror to a preternatural calm: One man, they said, wrapped a towel around his waist and wandered into the sauna while he waited.
But they came out to an altered scene: Emergency vehicles, armored trucks and helicopters were swarming. The YMCA's front windows were riddled with bullet holes.
"This is a pretty innocent part of the neighborhood," said Heimberg. "It's probably the last place I'd put a shooting at."
Outside, David Woodruff of Alexandria was jogging by when he heard 12 to 14 gun shots. He looked over his shoulder, ran 10 to 15 steps, then heard four or five more. He quickly ducked into a nearby parking garage, called 911 and waited.
When he came out, he saw two lawmakers he recognized. "They were clearly distraught and shaken up," he said.
He didn't feel in danger until later, when he saw bullet holes in a nearby electric transformer, and in the window of a car he'd just walked next to.
His son, he said, had been playing baseball at that field last night.
"It's a bucolic area," he said of the neighborhood. "If you were to get dropped in here, you'd never really realize it's only eight miles from the U.S. Capitol."
Scalise's office said in a statement: "Prior to entering surgery, the Whip was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone. He is grateful for the brave actions of U.S. Capitol Police, first responders, and colleagues."
Brooks described the scene even as he wore his batting gloves from practice. Later, Wenstrup was mobbed by reporters on Capitol Hill while still wearing his baseball uniform.
In an interview with WHIO radio in Dayton, Wenstrup said he ran to Scalise, put pressure on his wound and checked him for other wounds.
Of the gunman, Wenstrup said, "He was firing all over the place. There were a lot of rounds being fired. It became difficult to tell who was actually doing the shooting at some point."
Wenstrup also said the shooter moved around using a rifle and a pistol.
Schools in the area were on lockdown, and the normally busy thoroughfare for commuters was blocked off by police and emergency vehicles. Bystanders and neighbors mingled with reporters searching for information.
Rep. Mike Bishop, R-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."
Alexandria Police chief Michael Brown said the department got the first 9-11 call at 7:09 a.m., and arrived at the scene three minutes later. He said the shooting was "an isolated incident."
"The officers received fire from the suspect and returned fire," he said.
The GOP members of Congress were practicing for an annual charity baseball game versus Democratic members. The game is scheduled for Thursday at the stadium where the Washington Nationals play.
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, was at the practice but left before the shooting took place, a spokesman said.
"I am unharmed," he tweeted.
Dispatch Washington bureau chief Jack Torry contributed to this story
___ (c)2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)