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US House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: AFP
US House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Photo: AFP

Virginia shooting: US Congressman injured, gunman now dead

US Congressman Steve Scalise, at least 4 others were injured in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia, gunman dies from injuries sustained in a shootout with police

Washington: Senior US Congressman Steve Scalise and at least four others were injured Wednesday in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, near the nation’s capital, and the gunman later died from injuries sustained in a shootout with police.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, 51, of Louisiana was shot in the hip and is in stable condition, according to his office. A congressional staffer, two Capitol Police officers and a lobbyist were also injured.

US President Donald Trump said at the White House that “the assailant has now died from his injuries."

The president said he spoke with Scalise’s wife and that he pledged “full and absolute support" to his family.

Two US officials identified the shooter as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois. He was taken into custody after exchanging gunfire with police.

Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, who witnessed the shooting, said in a phone interview on Bloomberg TV that he heard a “loud explosion" and saw a middle-aged man with a rifle as he looked down the third-base line. He and other lawmakers sought cover on the ground behind the batting cage and later in the dugout as more shots were fired. Brooks said he heard Scalise scream.

“While this was going on, the gunfire is coming non-stop from the rifle," Brooks said.

Matt Mika, Tyson Foods Inc.’s director of government relations, was also shot and was taken to a local hospital, the company said in an emailed statement. Tyson said it’s awaiting word on his condition.

GOP Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina told reporters that he informed Alexandria police about a brief encounter he had in the parking lot with a man he believed to be the suspected shooter. Duncan said the man asked him whether the team was made up of Republicans or Democrats.

Asked whether he believes they were targeted because they were Republicans, Duncan replied, “I would assume so."

FBI investigation

FBI special agent Timothy Slater told reporters in Alexandria that it was too early to state a motive for the shooting or whether lawmakers were specifically targeted. He said the FBI is exploring all angles, including the possibility of terrorism.

“It’s really raw at this moment," said Slater, who is in charge of the Washington field office. “We’re exploring all angles."

Two Capitol police officers who were shot are being treated at a local hospital and are in good condition, said Capitol police chief Matthew Verderosa.

An Illinois local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, posted a photo of Hodgkinson protesting outside a local post office in 2012, holding a sign saying “Tax the Rich." He has a record of arrests on relatively minor charges, including failing to obtain electrical permits, driving under the influence and resisting a police office, according to the paper.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont said on the Senate floor that he had been informed that the shooter “is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act." He added, “I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

“Our lives were saved by the Capitol Hill police. Had they not been there I think it would have been a massacre," Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told CNN. “You are completely helpless," he said, having no defenses and being unable to help those who were injured.

“The field was basically a killing field. If you were to run out there while the shooter was still shooting, he would have shot anybody," Paul added. “He was shooting people as far away as right field. That’s probably, what, 75 yards away."

Brooks said, “They were single shots in rapid succession." Earlier on CNN, he said, “There must have been 50, 100 shots fired."

Brooks said members of the security detail fired back with pistols at the shooter until the shooter was tackled to the ground.

Brad Wenstrup, a Republican congressman who served as a military surgeon in Iraq, attended to Scalise after the shooter was down, Brooks said on CNN. Brooks said he and other lawmakers tried to apply a tourniquet with his belt for one injured person who was bleeding, he said.

Representative Roger Williams, a Texas Republican who coaches the team, said he wasn’t injured but that a member of his staff was and is receiving medical treatment.

Michael Brown, the chief of the Alexandria police, said the incident was reported shortly after 7 a.m. local time. He said local police responded within three minutes.

“Two of our officers engaged in gunfire, return fire," he told reporters, but declined to give details on the victims or the shooter. “It’s an active scene. We have a lot of witnesses who we’re having to interview."

House Republicans held a members-only briefing in the late morning, beginning with a prayer for the victims.

Afterward, Speaker Paul Ryan said on the House floor that lawmakers don’t “shed our humanity when we enter this chamber."

“I ask each of you to join me to resolve to come together to lift each other up, to show the country, to show the world, that we are one House," said Ryan of Wisconsin. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California added that the shooting was “an injury in our family."

Trump cancelled a planned event at the Labor Department. Scalise’s office said the House was cancelling all floor votes Wednesday, and a number of congressional hearings were postponed, including one on a proposal to loosen restrictions on firearm silencers.

Practice field

The House Republican baseball team has been practising in recent weeks in early mornings at the Alexandria site for Thursday’s annual congressional baseball game. Ryan announced during the members-only meeting that the game will go on, lawmakers said.

Scalise has been an avid participant in the game since arriving in Congress in 2008. As whip, he is the chief vote counter in the Republican conference.

Brooks said the assailant “was trying to take out our security detail" before he turned to lawmakers.

Paul told MSNBC that he was in the batting cage when he first heard one isolated shot and then a rapid succession of shots. He saw Scalise dragging himself to the outfield.

Paul also said that the security detail was present because Scalise is in a leadership position in Congress. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been any officers present.

Representative Joe Barton, manager of the GOP baseball team, was at the practice with his young son Jack.

“I think the security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter," Barton told reporters at the Capitol with his son standing by his side. “There were dozens if not hundreds of shots fired. It was scary."

The House Democrats, meanwhile, were at their own, separate practice and prayed for their colleagues on the field, according to a tweet from Representative Ruben Kihuen.

Brooks said he was on the field when he saw a rifle from behind the third base dugout.

“I hear another ‘blam’ and I realize that there’s an active shooter,’’ he said. At the same time I see Steve Scalise, over near second base, scream. He was shot.’’

The shooter continued to fire from a semi-automatic weapon, as members of Congress and their staff members ran in various directions to escape the barrage of bullets, he said.

Republican Representative Dave Brat of Virginia told reporters at the Capitol that Congress should consider increasing security presence at off-campus events and allowing members to carry guns to protect themselves. Bloomberg

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