Top GOP lawmaker wounded; gunfire at baseball practice
WASHINGTON (AP) — A top House Republican, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was shot and wounded by a rifle-wielding gunman Wednesday at a congressional baseball practice just outside of Washington. Several other people were also wounded, and at least two were in critical condition.
Capitol Police officers who were in Scalise’s security detail returned fire and wounded the shooter, who was taken into custody. In all, five people were taken to area hospitals, including the suspect, Alexandria police said.
Scalise, 51, the No. 3 House Republican leader first elected to the House in 2008, was in stable condition and undergoing surgery at a nearby hospital. He was shot in the hip, and his injuries were not life-threatening.
Two other people wounded were in critical condition at the George Washington University Hospital, a spokeswoman said, but the condition of the two others was not immediately known. Texas Rep. Roger Williams, who coaches the GOP team, said a member of his staff was shot and was receiving medical attention.
The gunman had a rifle and “a lot of ammo,” said Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at the practice.
President Donald Trump said he was “deeply saddened by this tragedy” and was monitoring developments. The House cancelled proceedings for the day.
The shocking event occurred at a popular park and baseball complex in Alexandria, Virginia, where Republican lawmakers and others were gathered for a morning practice about 7 a.m. They were in good spirits despite the heat and humidity as they prepared for the congressional baseball match that pits Republicans against Democrats. The popular annual face-off was scheduled for Thursday evening at Nationals Park across the Potomac River in Washington.
The team was taking batting practice when gunshots rang out and chaos erupted.
Scalise was fielding balls on second base when he was shot, according to lawmakers present, then dragged himself into the outfield to get away from the gunman.
Rep. Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, said his colleague “crawled into the outfield, leaving a trail of blood.”
“We started giving him the liquids, I put pressure on his wound in his hip,” Brooks said.
Texas Rep. Joe Barton, still in his baseball uniform, told reporters a shooter came out to the practice and opened fire, shooting at Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., who plays third base.
“He shot at Steve Scalise, our second baseman. He hit Steve Scalise,” Barton said, “Scalise’s security detail and the Capitol Hill police immediately returned fire, and Alexandria Police also immediately came and began to return fire. They shot the shooter. The security detail saved a lot of lives because they attacked the shooter.”
Barton described the shooter as a “middle aged man. Blue jeans and a blue shirt. I think he was anglo. He had a rifle and I think he had an automatic pistol, but I wouldn’t swear to it.”
Barton said the shooting lasted 5-10 minutes, and there were dozens if not hundreds of shots fired.
“It was scary,” Barton said.
Lawmakers took cover in the dugout. Barton said his son, Jack, got under an SUV.
FBI special agent in charge Tim Slater said it was “too early to say” whether it was an act of terrorism, or whether Scalise was targeted.
Sen. Flake, of Arizona, said he took cover in the dugout as the gunman and law enforcement exchanged fire. In the dugout, he said, he helped treat one aide who, after being shot in the leg near center field, managed to get there.
After the gunfire stopped, Flake ran onto the field and began to apply pressure on Scalise’s wound. After medical personnel arrived, he said he retrieved Scalise’s phone and made the first call to Scalise’s wife to notify her of the shooting. He said he did so to ensure that Mrs. Scalise would not find out about the shooting through the media.
Flake estimated that more than 50 shots were fired.
Scalise, a popular and gregarious lawmaker, is known for his love of baseball and handed out commemorative baseball bats to fellow lawmakers when he secured the No. 3 job of House whip several years ago.
Katie Filous was walking her two dogs near the field when she heard “a lot of shots.” She said the shooting “went on for quite a while.”
Filous said she saw the shooter hit a uniformed law enforcement officer, who she said was later evacuated by helicopter. She said the officer had gotten out of a parked car, drawn a handgun and shouted something to the gunman, who then fired.
Rep. Jeff Duncan said in a statement that he was at the practice and said “saw the shooter.”
“Please pray for my colleagues,” Duncan said.
Susan Griffiths, a spokeswoman at the George Washington University Hospital, said two people from the shooting were being treated at the hospital, both in critical condition.
In a brief interview in a Senate hallway, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I think everybody handled it well and things seem to be under control.”
Other lawmakers were stunned in the aftermath of the event, which raised questions about the security of members of Congress. While the top lawmakers, including Scalise, have security details, others do not and regularly appear in public without protection. The last time a lawmaker was wounded was when Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head and grievously injured while meeting with constituents at a supermarket parking lot in 2011.
Associated Press reporters Chad Day, Mary Clare Jalonick, Ken Thomas, Vivian Salama and Sarah Brumfield contributed to this report.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press.