U.S. lawmaker Scalise in critical condition after attack by gunman at baseball field

News 15 Jun 2017

left right A police officer mans a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 1/27 left right James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois is seen in this undated photo posted on his social media account. Social Media via REUTERS 2/27 left right U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump leave the MedStar Hospital Center following their visit to injured victims, after a gunman opened fire on a baseball field where Republican lawmakers were practicing for a charity game, in Washington, DC, U.S. June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria 3/27 left right Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) arrives to speak about the recent attack on the Republican Congressional Baseball Team in Alexandria, Virginia, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein 4/27 left right Police investigators are seen outside the house of Virginia shooting suspect James Hodgkinson in Belleville, Illinois, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kenny Bahr 5/27 left right Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 6/27 left right An unidentified victim is carried from the field by emergency services, after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017, in this picture obtained from social media. COURTESY TWITTER/Will Ragland/via REUTERS 7/27 left right A U.S. Capitol police SWAT team officer escorts members of Congress and congressional staff from the scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 8/27 left right Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), accompanied by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), speaks with the media at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein 9/27 left right Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) speaks with the media at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein 10/27 left right Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), catcher on the Republican Congressional Baseball Team, speaks with the media at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein 11/27 left right U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement about the shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 12/27 left right Dale Walsh, a friend of James Hodgkinson, speaks to media outside the home of Virginia shooting suspect Hodgkinson in Belleville, Illinois, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kenny Bahr 13/27 left right Director of Oval Office Operations Keith Schiller (L), U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (2ndL) and White House Senior Advisors Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (R) listen as President Donald Trump delivered a statement following a shooting at a Congressional Republicans baseball practice, from the White House in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 14/27 left right Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 15/27 left right U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) talks to reporters after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 16/27 left right Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 17/27 left right U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) departs a shooting scene after speaking to reporters near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 18/27 left right U.S. Capitol Police keep watch on Capitol Hill following a shooting in nearby Alexandria, in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein 19/27 left right Police and investigators gather at an intersection near the scene where shots were fired during a congressional baseball practice, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler 20/27 left right Police investigate a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 21/27 left right Police man a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 22/27 left right A bullet hole is seen in a window after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017, in this picture obtained from social media. COURTESY TWITTER/@JOEMISCAVIGE/via REUTERS 23/27 left right A bullet hole is seen in a window after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017, in this picture obtained from social media. COURTESY TWITTER/@JOEMISCAVIGE/via REUTERS 24/27 left right House Majority Whip Steve Scalise in a file photo. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque 25/27 left right FILE PHOTO – House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaks with Peter Welch (D-VT) before the markup of the the American Health Care Act, the Republican replacement to Obamacare, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. on March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo 26/27 left right A vehicle window is shattered as police secure the scene where shots were fired during a Congressional baseball practice, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler 27/27 By Sarah N. Lynch and Ross Colvin | ALEXANDRIA, Va.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. Congressman Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, was in critical condition on Wednesday night after he and three others were shot as they practiced for a charity baseball game.

The gunman, who had posted angry messages against President Donald Trump and other Republicans on social media, opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers and colleagues at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington. He was wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police at the scene and later died.

Scalise was shot in the left hip, suffering broken bones, injuries to internal organs and severe bleeding.

He underwent surgery but would need further operations, the MedStar Washington Hospital Center said.

"Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape – but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!" Trump said on Twitter after visiting the hospital on Wednesday night.

The gunman, identified by police as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, fired repeatedly at the men playing on the baseball field on Wednesday morning.

Congressmen at the ballpark described hearing loud noises like the sound of firecrackers and 15 to 20 people lying on the ground and realizing they had only baseball bats to defend themselves against bullets.

"When he started shooting, he was shooting to kill people. And thank God he wasn't a very good shot," said Representative Joe Barton, the Republican team's manager.

Also wounded were a congressional aide and one former aide who now works as a lobbyist, officials said. One Capitol Hill police officer suffered a gunshot wound and another officer twisted an ankle and was released from a hospital, police said.

"It was not only chaotic but it was a combat situation," Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown told reporters.

'IT'S GOT TO STOP'

While police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was too early to determine whether it was a deliberate political attack, the shooting intensified concerns about the sharp divide and bitter rhetoric in U.S. politics.

FBI special agent Tim Slater declined to comment on whether the gunman had a vendetta against Republicans.

"We continue to actively investigate the shooter's motives, acquaintances and whereabouts that led to today's incidents," Slater told reporters. No one else was in custody, he said.

The gunman was believed to have been in the Alexandria area since March, Slater said. Investigators believe that the suspect had been living out of his vehicle.

Wednesday's shooting revived debate about gun rights in America. Virginia's Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, urged gun control measures.

Scalise has been a strong opponent of gun control measures.

Hodgkinson had raged against Trump on social media and was a member of anti-Republican groups on Facebook including, "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans," "Terminate The Republican Party," and "Donald Trump is not my President," a search of his Facebook profile showed.

As businessman Trump rose to become the Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election, his brash style and outspoken views on immigration and other policies led to mass protests, including on the weekend of his inauguration in January.

The charity ballgame between a Republican team and a Democratic team will go ahead as scheduled on Thursday at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.

Representative Tim Ryan, who early on Wednesday was practicing for the ballgame with fellow Democrats, told reporters that Washington politicians needed to cool their rhetoric.

"We've got to get back to … where things aren't so personal and we're so judgmental of each other. It's got to stop. A member of the U.S. Congress got shot because they didn't like (his) political views," Ryan said.

CALLS FOR UNITY

Trump, who announced the gunman's death, called for unity. "We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good," he said.

In a show of bipartisanship, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the floor of the House: "An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us." The House's top Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, echoed Ryan's message.

The shooting happened shortly after 7 a.m. There were 20 House members and two senators present, and the shooting lasted about 10 minutes, said Barton.

Two lawmakers who were at the scene, Representatives Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan, indicated there might have been a political motive in the attack.

Duncan said that as he left the field, the man who would later open fire approached him in the parking lot. "He asked me who was practicing this morning, Republicans or Democrats, and I said: 'That's the Republicans practicing,'" Duncan told reporters. DeSantis gave a similar account.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, said he had been told that Hodgkinson had served as a volunteer with his campaign.

"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," Sanders said.

Ryan, the House speaker, is reviewing rules on how rank-and-file lawmakers can increase their personal security, according to several lawmakers.

"Members get threats on a regular basis and have trouble determining which are real," House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer told reporters.

'HEROISM' OF POLICE

The shooting took place at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, across the Potomac River from Washington.

Representative Mo Brooks told CNN that during batting practice, he heard a "bam" and then a quick succession of shots and saw the gunman shooting through the holes in a chain link fence.

When Scalise was shot, he went down on the infield between first and second base, then dragged himself into the grassy outfield as the incident unfolded, leaving a trail of blood, Brooks said.

Two Capitol police officers who were there to provide security for the lawmakers engaged the gunman with pistols, Brooks said.

"But for the Capitol police and the heroism they showed, it could very well have been a large-scale massacre. All we would have had would have been baseball bats versus a rifle. Those aren't good odds," Brooks said.

Wednesday's attack was the first shooting of a member of Congress since January 2011, when Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt at a gathering of constituents in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle, Julia Edwards Ainsley, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and David Alexander in Washington and Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Will Dunham, Grant McCool and Amanda Becker; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

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