‘We’d have been sitting ducks’: Congress members at baseball practice recall Alexandria shooting

WASHINGTON — Representatives and senators who were at the Congressional Baseball Game practice in Alexandria during the shooting Wednesday morning describe a scene reminiscent of combat and say that the leadership position of one of the players may have been what saved their lives.

In interviews with various media outlets, some members of Congress described being pinned down in a dugout and behind a batting cage, while Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House majority whip, lay wounded near second base. At one point, a senator wasn’t sure whether the shots coming from the opposite direction were fired by the Capitol Police or whether they were surrounded by shooters.

The Republican team was taking batting practice at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park at about 7 a.m. Wednesday. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said that a photographer at the practice saw someone behind the third-base dugout raise a rifle. The photographer “said he thought ‘Why in the world is somebody bird-hunting out here at this time?’” Flake said.

But the man, identified as James Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, began shooting. Flake said he had just come in from center field and was standing near home plate with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, “and all of a sudden we heard … a very loud shot … then boom, rapid succession after that.”

Rep. Chuck Fleishmann, R-Tenn., told CNN, “It turned out to be one shooter but I had to walk right past him when I walked past third base from left field; he just decided not to shoot me, so I was very fortunate.”

Flake and many members of the team ran into the third-base dugout, a cinder-block structure with a connection to the fence that offered some protection. Barton’s 10-year-old son was with them. “We got him into the dugout and stuffed him under the bench,” Flake said.

One mother in the area drove her kids to school and literally shoved them in the door. “I heard police, and then I heard more police and more police.” The school was on lockdown, she explained to WTOP’s Nick Iannelli, so “I knew that once I got them into school they’d be safe there.”

“There was a real fear when the shots were continuing on, that this gunman was going to come in the dugout,” Fleischmann said. “We’d have been sitting ducks.”

A view from behind the third-base dugout at Eugene Simpson Stadium Field. Click to expand. (Google Earth)

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., told CNN that he was on the third-base side of home plate when the shooting started. “I see the shooter, he’s probably about 80 or 90 feet away from me … and I figure out if I can see him, he can see me.” He ran behind the first-base side of the batting cage, which had a blue plastic barrier around it and hit the dirt.

“And then it occurred to me … that we were easily the next targets,” Brooks said. “And as it turned out, it was a wise decision for us to — we had no choice — we ran and jumped into the first-base dugout.”

“It’s about a foot or two drop into the ground, so you at least have some cover,” Brooks said.

Meanwhile, several people had been hit. According to various accounts, Hodgkinson had two guns and reloaded a few times. One of the wounded made it into the dugout, while Scalise lay between first and second base, shot in the hip.

“He was coherent the whole time,” Flake said, “but he laid out there for at least 10 minutes alone in the field and we couldn’t get to him while there were shots.”

Flake added that the gunman eventually moved behind the backstop behind home plate — where Brooks and a few other players had been.

Meanwhile, Brooks was one of several people helping a wounded man, putting a tourniquet around his leg. “He says he’s fine, but it didn’t look too fine to me.”

As majority whip, Steve Scalise had a security detail — two Capitol Police officers. Without them, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, “everybody probably would have died.” The senator told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “If you don’t have a leadership person there, there would have been no security there.”

Both officers, David Bailey and Crystal Greiner, were hurt in the exchange of gunfire with Hodgkinson.

“I started yelling back, ‘Are you friendly?'” Flake said, “… because we didn’t know if there were other shooters that had us surrounded and would come into the dugout so we didn’t know whether to run or not. As soon as we found out we had a friendly behind us, then we stayed and tried to keep down.”

“It was rather startling, as you can imagine, to look up and there’s a pistol being fired about five feet from your head. And the joy I felt, knowing it was one of our guys — I’ll never forget that guy,” Brooks said.

It took about several minutes for the Capitol Police and the Alexandria police to take Hodgkinson down, but for the people hiding from the shots it seemed to take forever. In the meantime, Scalise was still lying wounded on the field.

“He’d dragged himself after he we was shot, from near second base about 10 or 15 yards into the field,” Flake said. “… But he was laying motionless out there. So finally when we heard that the shooter was down, I just ran low out to Steve and started putting pressure on the wound for about 10 or 15 minutes until the medics arrived.”

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a former Army surgeon, went out with Flake to Scalise, he said. “Steve was conscious and OK,” Wenstrup said.

Wenstrup “asked me to apply pressure to the wound, and I did that” while Wenstrup worked on cutting away Scalise’s baseball pants, Brooks said.

From there, a wounded Capitol Police officer, presumably Bailey, stuck to his job.

The officer “came limping over to us in the outfield, totally ignoring his own wounds to check on the person he was primarily responsible for,” Brooks said. “… We insisted that he go back and get tended to because he was bleeding, but he was doing his job.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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