Flake, witnesses recall ‘indiscriminate firing’ at lawmakers in attack
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake was among the Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game Wednesday when “indiscriminate firing” rang out from a gunman who left five wounded before he was killed in a shootout with police.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, was in critical condition and four others, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers, were injured in the assault, which appeared to be politically motivated.
The attack rattled official Washington and brought an outpouring of condolences from officials on both sides of the political aisle Wednesday. It also hit close to home for Arizona lawmakers, many of whom were in office when then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson was wounded in a 2011 shooting.
“Obviously, it’s a little more raw to some of us,” said Flake, who said he got a call from Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, while still at the scene of the 7 a.m. shooting.
The gunman, later identified as 66-year-old Illinois man James T. Hodgkinson, died from gunshot wounds at the hospital after a gun battle with police at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park Field, where dozens of GOP lawmakers were holding their final practice before an annual charity game against Democrats.
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Tim Slater, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, said Hodgkinson had rifle and a handgun with him when he opened fire. Flake, still wearing his red-and-white baseball jersey several hours after the attack, said Hodgkinson had “a lot of ammo” when he began his assault.
“He (Scalise) went down pretty quick, he was one of the first shot,” Flake said. “He dragged himself into the infield from the outfield about 15 yards. We wanted to get to him but couldn’t with the gunshots overhead.”
Flake said he and a group of lawmakers took cover in the dugout, where they fashioned a tourniquet to staunch bleeding from a leg wound suffered by congressional aide Zachary Barth. At one point, Flake said, Hodgkinson appeared to have a clear line of fire of the dugout before police were able to take the shooter out.
“When I heard the shooter was down, I ran out to Steve (Scalise) and he was bleeding. A lot,” Flake said of Scalise, who had been stranded on the field while shots were fired.
“With gunshots going around you, you have a lot of thoughts, but (I was) trying to tend to those who were shot, trying to make sure others were safe,” Flake said, as he stood outside the baseball field after the shooting. “We had a 10-year-old boy with us.”
Besides Scalise and Barth, officials said Capitol Police Special Agent Crystal Griner and lobbyist Matt Mika were shot, while Capitol Police Special Agent David Bailey was treated at the scene for what were only described as minor injuries. Mika was listed in critical condition Wednesday, while Griner and Barth were in stable condition.
Witnesses at the scene described a flurry of shots in the normally quiet neighborhood that was filled Wednesday morning with officers and emergency vehicles and festooned with police tape.
“I immediately heard about a dozen, 14 or so gunshots, go off,” said David Woodruff, who was jogging by the field at the time of the shooting. “I recognized gunfire right away, ran about 10 or 15 more yards, heard four or five more shots and then realized I should probably get myself in a more secure place.”
-Cronkite News video by Noelle Lilley
Woodruff said he talked to two members of Congress who looked “clearly distraught” as they walked away from the scene.
Owen Britton, 25, said he was leaving the YMCA across the street from the field when he saw officers exchanging fire with Hodgkinson.
“Inside the gym things were fairly calm, no one was screaming,” Britton said. “People were remarking on it, but not in a panicked way. Outside the gym, bullets were flying.”
“Mostly I was trying to get people away from windows and doors, behind some solid cover, that was my primary concern,” he said.
Slater said he would not speculate on a motive for Hodgkinson, who was believed to have been living in a cargo van parked in the area since March.
But news reports said Hodgkinson had posted anti-Republican screeds on his social media accounts and he worked as a volunteer for the Democratic presidential campaign last year of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – who condemned the violence Wednesday.
“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said on the floor of the Senate. “And 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.”
Giffords, still struggling with the wounds she received during the 2011 shooting spree at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson, said Wednesday’s shooting may have targeted Republicans but that it was “an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy.”
“I am heartbroken for the pain of Congressman Scalise, the other victims, and their family, friends, and colleagues who survived,” Giffords said in a statement. “I am thankful for the great courage of the Capitol Police, who were my protectors after I was shot and became my friends.
“I also know the courage it takes to recover from a shooting like this, and I know Steve and everyone there this morning have such courage in great supply,” her statement said.
– Cronkite News reporters Joe Gilmore and Noelle Lilley contributed to this report.