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Gunman cased baseball field for weeks before opening fire at congressional practice

By: Peter Hermann, The Washington Post
October 6, 2017 Updated: October 6, 2017 at 4:08 pm
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FILE - In this April 17, 2012, photo, James Hodgkinson of Belleville protests outside of the United States Post Office in Downtown Belleville, Ill. A government official says the suspect in the Virginia shooting that injured Rep. Steve Scalise and several others has been identified Hodgkinson. (Derik Holtmann/Belleville News-Democrat, via AP)

The Illinois man who in June opened fire on Republican members of Congress at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., "cased the field" for weeks and was spotted watching the lawmakers play the day before the shooting spree, says a report issued Friday.

Authorities said they believe James T. Hodgkinson selected Eugene Simpson Stadium Park as a target as early as April, when he took pictures of the field  later found on his phone. That was shortly after he had driven to Alexandria in a white Ford conversion van, which he lived out of for months.

These details and others are in a 41-page report by Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter, who concluded that U.S. Capitol and Alexandria police officers were "legally justified" in fatally shooting Hodgkinson after the gunman had wounded four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and engaged officers in an intense gun battle at a storage shed near home plate.

Congressman Shot Shooter
This 2006 photo provided by the St. Clair County, Ill., Sheriff's Department shows James T. Hodgkinson. Officials said Hodgkinson has been identified as the man who opened fire on Republican lawmakers at a congressional baseball practice Wednesday June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Va. (St. Clair County Illinois Sheriff's Department via AP) 

The report says Hodgkinson fired 62 rounds from the assault rifle - 33 near third base, where he had started his attack, and another 29 near the shed. He fired more rounds from the handgun. Officers fired at least 40 rounds at Hodgkinson, striking him three times. The incident lasted nine minutes.

Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector, had been angry with President Donald Trump, and police have said he deliberately targeted Republicans the morning of June 14. He used a Century Arms International SKS semi-automatic assault rifle and a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, authorities said. He had no criminal record, and the guns were purchased legally at two gun shops in Illinois.

Scalise was shot in the hip and gravely wounded as he fielded balls at second base, but he recovered. The 51-year-old Louisiana Republican returned to the House for the first time Sept. 28. Also injured were Matthew Mika, a lobbyist struck in the chest, and Zachary Barth, who worked for a Texas congressman and was shot in the left lower leg.

The report credits Scalise's security detail, Capitol police agents Crystal Griner, who was shot in the leg in the first exchanges with the gunman, and David Bailey with pinning down Hodgkinson with gunfire moments after he started shooting. Bailey, the report says, ran onto the field as Hodgkinson fired through a chain-link fence, an action Porter described as a "courageous act" that "helped avert disaster."

Griner and Bailey arrived at the field with Scalise about 6:20 a.m., and then parked the black Chevrolet Suburban SUV 20 feet behind the first base entrance to the field, giving them an unblocked view of the park. They were in the vehicle with the windows down when the first shots were heard just after 7 a.m. Both exited and spotted Hodgkinson at the third-base fence, the rifle barrel sticking through the chain links.

Players were shouting and running; others dropped to the field or dove into dugouts. Scalise was the first to be struck. Mika went down next and was helped off the field. Barth, who was in center field, ran to the warning track but could not find a way out. He lay down and "sensed bullets impacting the ground around him," the report says. He was shot in the leg and ran to the first base dugout.

Bailey saw Scalise fall and tried to run to him but was met by gunfire. The report says he heard "bullets go past his head." Standing by the first base dugout, Bailey returned fire with his Glock pistol, squeezing off 10 rounds across the expanse of the field.

The report says Hodgkinson appeared to lose focus and fired more erratically. He also moved, ducking behind the third base dugout and making his way behind home plate to a blue cinder-block storage shed adorned with a high school logo.

Griner was still at the Chevrolet Suburban, taking cover behind the front driver-side door. Bailey returned to the vehicle to reload his weapon as Griner shot at the gunman. Both agents exchanged gunfire with Hodgkinson. One bullet struck Griner in her left ankle that had become exposed. She could not longer stand, though the report says she continued to fire at Hodgkinson as she lay under the Suburban.

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