ALEXANDRIA –– A man who had posted angry messages against President Donald Trump and other Republicans on social media opened fire on Republican lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game on Wednesday, wounding a senior US House member and three other people.
The gunman, a 66-year-old Illinois man, fired repeatedly at the men playing on a baseball field in suburban Alexandria, Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
He was wounded in a gunfight with Capitol Hill police who were at the scene, and police said he later died.
Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, was shot in the hip. He was tended to by fellow lawmakers including Brad Wenstrup, a congressman who is a physician, before being transported to a hospital, where he was listed in critical condition.
Also wounded were one current 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, an official said.
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 US politics.
The gunman was identified by a senior US official as James Hodgkinson from the St Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois. He had worked as a home inspector.
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 Party 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.
Trump announced the gunman’s death and called Scalise, a 51-year-old Louisiana congressman, a good friend. “He’s a patriot and he’s a fighter. He will recover from this assault,” Trump said.
Trump also called for unity. “We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” he said.
The shooting happened shortly after 7 a.m., while lawmakers were practicing their hitting and fielding a day before the annual charity congressional baseball game pitting Republicans against Democrats.
There were 20 House members and two senators present, and the shooting lasted about ten minutes, said Representative Joe Barton, the Republican team’s manager.
The charity game will go ahead as scheduled at Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team.
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. She survived, but six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.