WASHINGTON — Five officers who risked their lives to save others when a gunman opened fire during a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, in June were awarded with the U.S. Capitol Police Medal of Honor Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who was shot, was awarded the Medal of Merit for his courage under fire. But he pointed out that things would have been far worse without the officers’ selfless actions.
“These five brave men and women prevented a mass execution,” Rep. Scalise said.
Thursday’s speakers at the Congressional Auditorium ceremony also included House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The event started shortly after 10 a.m. at the Capitol Visitor Center.
“The bravery of these officers makes me proud to be chief of police,” Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa said during the ceremony.
House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the officers’ actions an “inspiration to us all.”
She thanked the entire Capitol Police Department for its patriotism and service.
Sen. Schumer, D-NY, called the ballfield gunman “unhinged” and said the shooter was carrying “weapons of war.”
Sen. McConnell, R-Ky., echoed the praise for Capitol police.
“Today is another chance for each of us to both recognize and thank the men and women of our Capitol police force for everything they do to protect our nation’s capitol, the people who work here and the millions who visit this important symbol of our democracy,” he said.
Rep. Ryan, R-Wis., pointed out how deadly the shooting could have been. “Even as we try to go back to normal, we see that we were so close to losing so many of our friends.”
The bullet that hit Scalise fractured bones and tore through internal organs. He arrived at Medstar Washington Hospital Center at “imminent risk of death,” trauma surgeon Dr. Jack Sava said at the time.
Four others also were hurt.
The officers honored were U.S. Capitol Police Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, and Alexandria police officers Nicole Battaglia, Alexander Jensen and Kevin Jobe.
Bailey and Griner were injured in the shooting.
In the shooting, the FBI identified the gunman as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois.
Authorities say Hodgkinson had moved to the D.C. region shortly before the shooting. He was allegedly living out of a white cargo van in the East Monroe Street area since March and was not working.
According to posts on his Facebook page and letters to his hometown newspaper, Hodgkinson had a history of railing against income inequality and the Republican Party.
Scalise spoke publicly of the attack in September when he returned to the Hill.
“You have no idea how great this feels to be back here at work in the people’s house,” the 51-year-old Louisiana Republican said to a chamber packed with lawmakers, including senators who had crossed the Capitol to welcome him back.
He thanked the officers who helped kill the shooter and he praised the doctors who patched him together through repeated surgeries.
Scalise’s homecoming recalled the August 2011 return to the House of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was seriously wounded during a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
Since her shooting, Giffords has become a national leader of gun control efforts. The group she founded with husband Mark Kelly, Americans for Responsible Solutions, emailed a fundraising solicitation Thursday, asking for money to help pressure Congress “to put our safety ahead of the corporate gun lobby’s profits.”
William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.