U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of downstate Taylorville was at home plate during the Republican congressional team’s baseball practice Wednesday when gunfire erupted.
“I was up to bat and I heard a loud noise that I thought was a construction site dropping a large piece of metal,” Davis told the Tribune. “And the next thing I heard was one of my colleagues, or somebody else on the field, saying, ‘Run, he’s got a gun.’ So that’s exactly what I did.”
The gunman, who was near the dugout on the third baseline when he opened fire, wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip in the House, and several others, including a congressional staffer and two law enforcement officers who were providing security at the field, officials said.
The gunman was wounded when police returned fire, and he later died. He has been identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., about 80 miles south of where Davis lives.
“It makes me nauseous,” said Davis, adding that he learned the gunman was from Illinois during a media interview.
Davis, 47, is in his third term and has played baseball for the GOP congressional team — he is the catcher — throughout his tenure.
He said there were children milling around the playing field and people out walking their dogs when the quiet morning in Alexandria, Va., was disrupted by gunfire.
“I never thought I’d go to a baseball practice for a charity game, where Republicans and Democrats come together, and have to dodge bullets,” Davis said.
In an earlier interview with CNN, Davis said he dove into the first baseline dugout along with other players. “By the time I got there from home plate, I was on top of a couple people — didn’t think that was the best place to be … an open dugout, so I tried to get out of there.
“When there seemed to be a break in activity, I and others, we dispersed up into the street,” taking cover behind cars, Davis said.
He said someone called out that the gunman was coming up the street. “A good Samaritan let us into his apartment so we could call 911,” Davis said. “I also called my family.”
“It’s my breaking point, we have to stop this,” he said.
U.S. Reps. John Shimkus and Darin LaHood of Illinois are on the GOP team’s roster but were not at the practice, their offices said.
In the CNN interview, Davis blamed the shooting on the “hateful” tone of politics in the country and said it “could be the first political rhetorical terrorist act.”
“I believe there is such a hatefulness in what we see in American politics and policy discussions right now … on social media and the 24-hour news cycle. This has got to stop.
“We can disagree on how to govern — that’s what makes this country great,” he said. “I think Republicans and Democrats need to use this day today to stand together and say, ‘Stop, let’s work together, let’s get things done. We can have our differences, but let’s not let it lead to such hate.'”
The lawmaker told the Tribune he has seen social media posts attributed to the gunman, and “he didn’t look like he was too keen on Republican policies.”
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Channahon in Will County, who has played on the GOP baseball team in the past, joined Davis and other lawmakers in lamenting the ugly tone of today’s politics. A look at the congressman’s Facebook page will show that things have gotten “so personal and so angry,” he said during an afternoon conference call with reporters.
Kinzinger said that there has been an increasing number of death threats against him and other lawmakers, and that the frequency of death threats was “overwhelming” the Capitol Police.
He said lawmakers needed to join hands and realize that as political debates ensue, “we can do it without … violence, extreme hate and anger.”
When congressional leaders announced Wednesday, during a closed-door briefing, that Thursday night’s Republicans versus Democrats game would go on, there was a standing ovation, Kinzinger said. Going on to play the game “sends a very strong and powerful message,” he said.
During the closed-door briefing, there were a “lotta tears shed,” Kinzinger said.
“All of us are really shaken by this,” U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat, said as she left the closed-door meeting.
“There was an incredible tone of unity,” she said. “And all of us need to take responsibility for the tone and for the fact that we are one, in terms of our love for our country and our vulnerability.
“And we need to stand together as Democrats and Republicans,” she added.
Security in and around the Capitol was ratcheted up after the mass shooting in nearby Alexandria. Schakowsky said Capitol Police and the House sergeant-at-arms indicated enhanced protective measures will be taken on Capitol Hill as well as at Thursday’s congressional ballgame and next week’s congressional picnic at the White House.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from Moline who plays shortstop on a women’s congressional softball team, lamented that the mass shooting targeted a rare bipartisan extracurricular activity.
“This is one of the few things that we have in Washington, D.C., where we build camaraderie,” she said. “And it’s designed to help charitable causes, give us a release, come together with our colleagues and have fun. And now you’ve got a lunatic who is making the decision to come out and shoot five people and is disrupting something that actually is good in Washington, D.C.”
Davis, in his Tribune interview, said he was heartened that the congressional baseball game at Nationals Park would be played.
“Obviously security is going to be enhanced after a tragedy like today, but I’m glad the game is going on,” he said.
“This is our chance to remind everyone in this country that we’re Americans. Republicans and Democrats get along out here. We actually govern together on most issues we deal with, but the political rhetoric that we’ve seen come out of the news media and out of the social media, this has got to stop.”
The game will be played to “send a message to all those who hate that enough is enough,” Davis said.
Davis also said he hoped good would emerge from the violence.
“Let this day be our day,” he said, “where we come together as a country and stop this political, rhetorical hate speech that we see on all sides, in the media and in social media.”