FBI searches for clues into shooting attack as victims struggle to recover

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FBI searches for clues into shooting attack as victims struggle to recover

Investigators on Thursday were working to piece together details of the journey of James T. Hodgkinson, trying to figure how his politically fueled rage led him from his small Illinois hometown to a shootout with police at an Alexandria, Va., ball field.

Hodgkinson, 66, a former contractor and home inspector with a record of domestic violence, died in a shootout with police just minutes after opening fire with an assault rifle Wednesday morning. Two people were critically wounded, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who was shot in the hip as he stood at second base.

On Thursday, President Trump said Scalise, who reportedly underwent a third surgery Thursday morning, was facing a tough recovery. On Wednesday, MedStar Washington Hospital said the bullet entered his left hip and traveled across his pelvis, damaging bones and internal organs. Scalise received multiple blood transfusions and was in critical condition, the hospital said.

“It’s been much more difficult than people even thought at the time,” Trump said. “He’s in some trouble, but he’s a great fighter, and he’s going to be OK, we hope.”

Matt Mika, a former congressional staff member who now works as a lobbyist, was shot in the chest. He was reported to be improving but was still listed in serious condition at George Washington University Hospital. Two other shooting victims, including a Capitol Police officer, received relatively minor injuries.

As investigators combed through the Alexandria neighborhood and Belleville, Ill., on Thursday, Hodgkinson’s wife, Sue, emerged briefly to speak to reporters, accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy.

“I had no idea he was going to do this,” she told the local Fox News affiliate. “I can’t wrap my head around it.”

She shook her head when asked whether her husband had explained why he left for Washington, but then added, “He wanted to work on taxes” — possibly an allusion to his views that the wealthy should be taxed more.

“She is shocked and in disbelief that her husband did this and has upset her life like this,” St. Clair County Chief Deputy Richard Wagner said. “You could see she could barely stand.”

One unanswered question for investigators was how long Hodgkinson had been targeting the ball field and the practice sessions.

The FBI said Hodgkinson had two guns, a 7.62-mm rifle and a 9-mm handgun, both apparently bought legally from licensed dealers. The FBI said investigators are going through a cellphone, camera and laptop found in his white van, which was parked at a YMCA across the street.

Hodgkinson, whose Facebook page was filled with angry rants about Trump and other Republicans, arrived in the Alexandria area in March, the FBI said, and on April 4 joined a YMCA across the street from Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in the Del Ray neighborhood, long used by the Republican congressional baseball team as a practice field to prepare for an annual charity game against Democrats, a tradition for more than a century.

Hodgkinson dissolved his home inspection and appraisal business in April, records show. Family members told the Belleville News-Democrat that he sold his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, packed his van and left in late March for what he described as a Washington vacation that might include some political protesting. He lived in his van, showered at the YMCA and took a few side trips, including one to Chesapeake Bay.

Once in Alexandria, Hodgkinson could be seen spending long hours with his laptop in the YMCA’s common areas, including one spot at a window with a good view of the park. On Tuesday, Hodgkinson gave written notice that he wanted to cancel his membership because he was moving, according to a statement released by the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. But he still had access to the center because his membership was paid up into July.

He arrived at the YMCA at 5:31 am Wednesday and once again sat with his laptop in a common area; no one saw him leave. Shortly after 7 a.m., Hodgkinson stood outside a chain-link fence around the ball field and began firing.

Hodgkinson had a record of petty offenses in Belleville, including one case in which he threatened someone with a shotgun. He wasn’t convicted, but his lawyer said he made an impression as an “angry, irascible little man.”

In March, one neighbor called police after Hodgkinson fired a rifle into trees.

“He was target practicing out in the white pines behind his house,” said William Schaumleffel, who lives across a farm field from Hodgkinson’s house. “I yelled, ‘Hey, stop shooting!’” Hodgkinson didn’t stop, he said. Sheriff’s deputies found he wasn’t doing anything illegal.His family and friends told the Belleville paper that Hodgkinson told them he missed his dogs and family and had been planning to return home Wednesday.

Jack McClenahan, a retired Belleville business owner, said he had several run-ins with Hodgkinson over the years.

“He would get politically aggressive. I go down to the post office quite often and he would be there collecting signatures and things he was for and if you weren’t of his opinion, he’d be very agitated. Coming back out, he [would] bug you again and would get in your face if you didn’t agree with him.

“He’s someone you’d remember,” he added. “It was super shocking for our town because you don’t want bad press and this is about as bad press as you can get.”

In Alexandria, a colonial-era city just minutes from downtown D.C., residents were still reeling from the shootout at the ball field, which is busy throughout the summer with adult leagues and Little League games. Hundreds of residents walked down the main street of the neighborhood Wednesday night, ending with a prayer vigil at a church.

“As many people have said to me, if it can happen here it can happen anywhere, in the blink of an eye,” Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg said in an interview. “Why can’t a bunch of folks throw a ball on a ball field on a beautiful summer morning without thinking twice about it?

Meanwhile, tickets were going at a brisk pace for Thursday’s Republicans versus Democrats game at Washington Nationals Park. The starting pitcher for the Democrats, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, is a longtime political rival of Scalise.

“I’ve been knowing Steve for a long time and I know that he’s very persistent and strong,” Richmond said.

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