Gunman dead after attacking congressmen at Virginia baseball field

  • Published
Media caption,

Watch as baseball gunman opens fire

A gunman who sprayed bullets at Republican lawmakers during baseball practice in a Washington DC suburb has died, US President Donald Trump said.

House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise was one of five injured in the early morning ambush at a park in Alexandria, Virginia.

The attacker, identified as Illinois native James T Hodgkinson, 66, was killed after a firefight with police.

The injured included two officers with non-life-threatening wounds.

Hodgkinson was self-employed until recently and worked as a home inspector.

He had campaigned for former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

A Facebook account that appears to belong to Hodgkinson is filled with anti-Republican and anti-Trump posts.

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Bernie Sanders: 'I'm sickened by this despicable act'

Mr Sanders, a Vermont senator, said he was "sickened by this despicable act" and condemned Hodgkinson's actions.

President Trump described the attack as a "very, very brutal assault".

"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," he added.

The president visited Mr Scalise - who was shot in the left hip and is in a critical condition after surgery - at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center on Wednesday evening, describing him as a "patriot and a fighter".

The hospital said Mr Scalise had suffered fractured bones, internal organ injuries and severe bleeding and would require further operations.

Image source, Illinois State's Attorney Office
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James T Hodgkinson was a resident of Bellville, Illinois, a suburb of St Louis

What we know about suspect

  • James T Hodgkinson is a 66-year-old man from Belleville, Illinois
  • His wife told ABC News he moved to Virginia two months ago
  • His Facebook account shows anti-Republican and anti-Trump rhetoric
  • He volunteered on the campaign of Bernie Sanders
  • He had a string of criminal convictions, including traffic violations and allegations of violence

The lawmakers were practising for the annual congressional ballgame that organisers vowed would go ahead as planned on Thursday at Nationals Park, home of Major League Baseball team the Washington Nationals.

Alexandria police said the FBI was taking over the investigation into the shooting, which began shortly after 07:00 (11:00 GMT) on Wednesday morning at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park.

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Congressman shot: 'He laid out there for 10 minutes alone'

'Sitting ducks'

As well as Mr Scalise, two police officers who protect him, Krystal Griner and David Bailey, lobbyist Matt Mika and Zack Barth, a congressional aide for Texas lawmaker Roger Williams, were injured.

Mr Barth, a former staffer for two Republican congressmen, was shot in the chest, according to witness Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

Mr Flake told reporters he was at bat during the shooting and the victims were "sitting ducks".

Media caption,

Texas congressman fights back tears as he recounts shooting

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said someone at the baseball field had used a belt as a tourniquet on Mr Scalise, who is the number three House Republican.

South Carolina congressman Jeff Duncan said the suspect had asked him whether Republicans or Democrats were practising, before shots rang out.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told Fox News: "I do believe without the Capitol Hill police it would have been a massacre.

"We had no defence at all. The field was basically a killing field."

He said they were lucky that Mr Scalise was present because he has a security detail owing to his congressional seniority.

Which lawmakers are protected by police?

US lawmakers receive police protection while they are at the Capitol building, but only certain high-ranking House and Senate figures - believed to number about 10 in total - have a round-the-clock security detail wherever they are.

Just a handful of top congressional leaders used to have that privilege, but it was broadened after 9/11 to include the whips, according to The Hill.

However, other members can get protection too if, for example, threats have been made.

Some of those not eligible for constant protection carry guns in their home districts if the state laws allow it, and lawmakers can also organise local police protection for their events.

When Democrat representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011 in Arizona while speaking to constituents, no police were providing security.

The latest shooting has triggered a fresh debate around the issue.

Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, told CNN he was on third base during the baseball game when he saw Mr Scalise, who was on second base, shot.

He said Mr Scalise had a bullet hole in his leg, but was saying: "I'm OK, I'm OK."

Mr Brooks said everyone on the field scattered as 50 to 100 shots were fired.

Media caption,

Congress 'united' over Virginia shooting

He said a gunfight had ensued between the shooter and the congressmen's police security detail, who were armed with pistols.

Mr Brooks, who took refuge behind a batting cage, said the gunman was armed with a rifle and was "blasting away" from behind the dugout.

Mr Brooks said congressmen Chuck Fleischmann, of Tennessee, Ron DeSantis, of Florida, and Jeff Duncan, of South Carolina, were among 15-25 other lawmakers at the game.

Asked by a CNN host if the attack was deliberate, Mr Brooks replied: "Well, it sure as heck wasn't an accident!

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Eyewitness: 'I cried and laid flat on the ground'

"He was going after elected officials, congressmen."

Mr Brooks continued: "The only weapon I had was a baseball bat and that's not the kind of fight you want to engage in."

Ohio congressman Brad Wenstrup, who served in Iraq as a combat surgeon from 2005-06, provided medical care at the scene.

He said the attack had lasted for at least 10 minutes, adding: "He had a lot of ammo."

Media caption,

Trump condemns 'brutal' baseball shooting

Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said his officers had responded and engaged the shooter within three minutes.

The last member of Congress to be targeted by a gunman was Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head as she met constituents in Tucson, Arizona, in January 2011. She survived, but six others died in that incident.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was elected to Congress in 2008

Ms Giffords‏ said in a statement: "This shooting is an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy."

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan, was applauded on the chamber floor as he said: "We are united... an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
At least 25 Republicans were at the practice
Image source, Reuters
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Police investigate the shooting scene
Image source, @RepKihuen
Image caption,
Lawmaker Ruben Kihuen‏ tweeted this photo of Democratic congressmen praying for the victims