Gunman opens fire on Republican lawmakers near Washington

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who was at the scene of the shooting said reports of 50 shots being fired “would be an understatement.” (Photo by Megan Janetsky/Cronkite News)

Reporters on the scene of the shooting at an Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field where GOP lawmakers were practicing for a charity game. (Photo by Megan Janetsky/Cronkite News)

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa discusses the preliminary part of the shooting investigation. (Photo by Megan Janetsky/Cronkite News)

U.S. Capitol Police were in evidence, in force, around the Capitol after lawmakers were shot in Alexandria earlier Wednesday morning. (Photo by Ben Moffat/Cronkite News)

Lawmakers and staff gather outside the Capitol where security was tight shortly after the shooting in Alexandria. (Photo by Ben Moffat/Cronkite News)

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – At least five people were taken to the hospital early Wednesday after a gunman opened fire on Republican lawmakers who were practicing for an annual charity baseball game.

No fatalities were reported, but Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, the House majority whip, was among the wounded.

The shooter was identified as James Thomas Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill. He was killed during a shootout with Capitol Police, who were on site as Scalise’s protection detail. Local and federal authorities are investigating the shooting.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, was one of the lawmakers at the early morning practice when he said he saw Scalise get shot near second base after what he described as “indiscriminate shooting” from the gunman.

Flake said the shooter appeared to have a clear line of fire into dugout where he was and that he thought they were “going to have to run.”

U.S. Capitol Police who were on the scene returned fire and two officers were wounded, according to initial reports.

In an interview aired on CNN, Flake said the gunman was a white man in a dark shirt who appeared to be in his 40s or early 50s. He said reports of 50 shots fired “would be an understatement,” particularly after police returned fire.

“He had a lot of ammo and he must’ve been secured behind the third base dugout for a while – initially he was right out in the open,” Flake said in the broadcast interview.

-Cronkite News video by Noelle Lilley

Witnesses in the neighborhood said they heard at least a dozen shots, and one described the shooter as a short, stocky 55-65 year old man carrying an “AK-47 type” weapon.

The shooting was being investigated Wednesday by state and city police, local sheriff’s departments, Capitol Police and the FBI. Authorities refused to release details on the condition of victims or the suspect.

The lawmakers were practicing for Thursday night’s scheduled charity game against congressional Democrats, a summer tradition in Washington for decades and a favorite of many in Congress who say it allows them to come together and put partisan differences aside for one night.

After Wednesday morning’s Democratic practice at a field in Washington, lawmakers paused for a prayer for their GOP colleagues, according to posts on social media.

On Capitol Hill, votes were canceled in the House and a number of meetings were canceled yesterday. Security was noticeably tighter for several hours, but by mid-morning the Capitol seemed to be returning to business as usual.

Members of Arizona’s congressional delegation quickly issued calls thinking of the victims and praising police response.

“My family and I are sickened by this morning’s shooting in Alexandria. Our prayers are w/ those shot & the courageous officers at the scene,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, in a tweet.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, tweeted that he was “praying for my colleague @SteveScalise, officers & staff injured in today’s shooting. Thanks to @CapitolPolice for your service & dedication”

Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, called the “attack on my colleagues, their staff, & Capitol police during practice for Thursday’s @thehillbaseball game is heartbreaking.”

For Arizona lawmakers, the shooting is particularly sensitive. Many were in office in 2011 when then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was targeted and severely wounded in a shooting spree during a congressional event in Tucson that left six dead and 12 others injured.

Flake said he received a call after Wednesday’s shooting from Gifford’s husband, Mark Kelly.

“It’s a little more raw to some of us,” Flake said.