- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A gunman opened fire on a group of congressional Republicans practicing baseball in Alexandria Wednesday morning, wounding a senior GOP lawmaker, an aide, a lobbyist and several police officers and spurring new questions about the viciousness of political debate.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the third-highest Republican in the House, was shot in the hip, and was in critical condition, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Zack Barth, an aide to Rep. Roger Williams, and Matt Mika, a former staffer who’s now a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, were also shot. And two police officers present as part of Mr. Scalise’s security detail — Special Agent David Bailey and Special Agent Crystal Griner — were also wounded.

The gunman, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, was shot by the officers and died, President Trump announced.

Hodgkinson appeared to have targeted the Republicans gathered to practice for Thursday’s annual congressional baseball game. He had posted anti-Trump rants online and defended the political philosophy of Sen. Bernard Sanders, a left-wing candidate in last year’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Sanders said he was “sickened” to learn the man was apparently a campaign volunteer.

“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Mr. Sanders said, taking to the Senate floor to make a statement. “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.”

SEE ALSO: James Hodgkinson identified as gunman in shooting of Scalise, aide and two police officers

The attack on Republicans preparing for the charity baseball game shocked Washington.

“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan declared in opening the House for its noon session — then quickly shutting business down for the day.

Witnesses described Hodgkinson opening fire with a rifle from the side of the baseball field, then Capitol Police returning fire, in what became a running gun battle that lasted minutes.

Members of Congress, staffers and even children who were at the practice scattered, with some hiding in a dugout or running from the field to escape the gunman’s fire.

Witnesses described at least 50 shots fired by the gunman, and the relief they felt when the Capitol Police officers began to fire back.

Without Capitol Police it would have been “a massacre,” Sen. Rand Paul said on CNN.

SEE ALSO: Rep. Ron DeSantis: Before shooting, man asked if Republicans or Democrats were on field

“They saved a lot of lives today,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe at a press conference hours after the attack.

Police said they did not believe there was any further danger to the community, and had the gunman in custody.

“Right now we have every indication … that this was an isolated incident,” said Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown.

With the attack involving a member of Congress, the FBI was taking the lead in the investigation. Special Agent Tim Slater said it was too early to say what the motive was.

“This incident is really raw at this point,” he said.

Members of Congress were at the ball field in Alexandria to practice before Thursday’s annual baseball game between congressional Republicans and Democrats. The practices are a regular thing, and neighbors out for a morning run or to take dogs to a nearby park stop by.

Lawmakers also had their children out with them when the gunfire erupted.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, who left the practice just prior to the shooting, said a man at the scene asked him if those on the field were Republicans or Democrats.

“As I was getting into the car with one of my colleagues, Jeff Duncan, there was a guy who walked up to us and asked if it was Republicans or Democrats out there. And it was just a little odd and then he kind of walked toward the area where all this happened,” the Florida Republican said on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.”

He said he didn’t know if the man was the gunman but he had told police about the encounter.

“I think it is important for police to have that information,” Mr. DeSantis said. “It will be interesting to see the motivation.”

Mr. Scalise was out near second base when he was shot in the hip, and dragged himself into the outfield grass, where he was pinned down by the gunfire, with nobody able to reach him, witnesses said.

“I was on deck about to hit batting practice on the third base side of home plate and I hear a loud bam. And I look around and behind third base, in the third base dug out which is cinder blocks, I see a rifle and a little bit of a body and then I hear another blam and I realize there is an active shooter,” Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican, told CNN.

“At the same I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot. He’s our majority whip. The gun was a semi automatic. It continues to fire at different people. All the people on the field scatter,” the congressman said.

He said he ran for a cinderblock dugout to take shelter.

Witness Katie Filous of Alexandria told The Washington Times she was walking dogs at a popular dog park adjacent to the ball field when she heard loud popping sounds and saw “little puffs of dirt on the baseball field.”

“People were screaming, ‘He has a rifle, he has a rifle,” she said. “The gun was really, really loud. Everybody was screaming, ‘Lay flat.’ It was terrifying.”

She witnessed one of the uniformed Capitol police officers get shot while returning fire with the gunman.

“I saw a person get out of a black Suburban, he or she had a handgun, saying, ‘Drop your weapon!’” Ms. Filous said. “I saw the gunman shooting the agent.”

A trembling Ms. Filous said about a dozen of the lawmakers and staffers who had been practicing on the ball field sought safety behind a large tree nearby as the gunfire continued. She was finally rescued by a man who helped her to safety as she sought cover under a vehicle.

“I was laying half-under a car, and somebody in a suit and sunglasses ran over to me and said ‘I’ll help you get in your car,’” she said. “He grabbed one of the dogs for me and ran with me over to my car.

Mr. Trump said he and Vice President Mike Pence were following the situation.

“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,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.

The situation of the shooting left lawmakers wondering about whether they were being targeted.

“Someone had to think this through,” Rep. Sean Duffy said on Fox News.

Mr. Paul, Kentucky Republican, said he was in the batting cage when he heard an isolated shot and then a rapid succession of five or 10 shots.

Mr. Scalise was in the field, “shot but moving, and he’s trying to drag himself through the dirt out into the outfield,” Mr. Paul said in a harrowing account to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

On the other side of a nearby fence, he saw additional shots hit the ground around two aides lying low in right field.

“They’re trying to make a difficult decision, ‘Do we lay here, stay low and hope he doesn’t hit us?’ … or does the shooter just advance and come closer and shoot you. So you have to make a decision at some point whether to stay or run,” he said.

One aide scrambled over the fence and hid behind a tree with Mr. Paul.

He said he couldn’t tell where, exactly, the shots were coming from, or which side of the tree to even stand on to protect himself.

Mr. Paul said the gunman continued to reload and he heard 50 to 60 shots, as people on the wide-open field remained vulnerable.

Andrea Noble, S.A. Miller, Sally Persons, Seth McLaughlin and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this article.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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