Wife of Illinois man who shot congressman speaks for first time

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The gunman who wounded a top Republican congressman and several others during an early morning baseball practice had apparently been living out a white cargo van for months and was frequently seen working on a computer at a nearby YMCA, where he kept mostly to himself.

James T. Hodgkinson shot House Rep. Steve Scalise on Wednesday before he was fatally shot by police who had been guarding the House majority whip on the Alexandria, Virginia, baseball field, officials said.

Hodgkinson's wife Sue spoke out for the first time Thursday near her home in Belleville. She said she was shocked by the shooting, and had no idea her husband would do anything like that. She also said she believed he was coming home within a few days because he was out of money.

"I can't believe he did this. I cannot believe this. And I just want y'all to go away and leave my neighbors in peace, they don't deserve this, I don't deserve it, and my daughters don't deserve all this," she said.

She is just as confused as anyone else, if not more so.

"I don't know what to tell you people, I had no idea this was going to happen and I don't know what to say about it, I can't wrap my head around it," Hodgkinson said.

Her estranged husband, who she calls Tom, took off in March for Washington, D.C., and that was the last time she saw him,

"He wanted to go up there and work with people to change the tax brackets," she said.

"I'm sorry he did this, but there's nothing I can do about it," she added.

Now with investigators going through her home and her estranged husband shot dead by Capitol Police, Sue Hodgkinson just wants to leave that life behind.

Authorities believe the 66-year-old had been living out of a van in northern Virginia since March after leaving his southern Illinois home. The man expressed grievances online about President Donald Trump and Republicans, but authorities said they're still working to determine a motive.

Hodgkinson was spotted regularly over the past several weeks at the YMCA next to the site of the shooting, sitting with a computer in the lobby or at a table in an exercise area that looked out onto the baseball field.

Former Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, who chatted with Hodgkinson at the gym, said he assumed the man was homeless because he wore pretty much the same outfit every day and carried a bag full of extra clothes. Hodgkinson rarely joined in the political discussions often set off by the television in the room and never showed any signs that he was troubled, Euille said.

"I never saw him get mad when people were talking good, bad or ugly about any of the political parties," Euille told The Associated Press. "He was just a very calm, rational person, I thought," he said.

Stephen Brennwald, another YMCA member, said he never saw Hodgkinson talk to anyone and figured the man was a "loner." Brennwald thought it was odd he never saw Hodgkinson exercise or wear workout clothes and considered asking a staffer about him but never did, he said.

"There's just no way that I would have guessed that this guy would be shooting at law enforcement and a congressman," said Brennwald, an attorney.

Hodgkinson, who was armed with a handgun and a rifle, died from multiple gunshot wounds to his torso, the FBI said. Federal investigators are working to trace his weapons to find out where they were purchased and other details about their history.

Texas Rep. Roger Williams said one of his aides, Zack Barth, was shot but was doing well and expected to recover fully. Two Capitol Police officers sustained relatively minor injuries. A former congressional aide was hospitalized.

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Reprsentatives continued to prepare for their Thursday night charity baseball game after a mass shooting at GOP practice Thursday injured 4. The shooter is dead.

The FBI said authorities are speaking with people who knew Hodgkinson or who may have encountered him. FBI agent Tim Slater said the FBI needs the public's help in piecing together Hodgkinson's whereabouts and activities while he was in Alexandria.

"We're just not sure at this time" how he spent his time, he said.

Kristina Scrimshaw, a bartender at the Pork Barrel BBQ restaurant a few blocks from the shooting scene, said Hodgkinson had become something of a regular in recent weeks. He always drank Budweiser from a can and drank alone, barely speaking to anyone, including the bartenders.

"I didn't like him from the beginning," she said. "Nothing I can really put my finger on, but he was just not a pleasant person."

The gunman's brother told The New York Times that the man was upset about Trump's election and recently went to Washington to protest, but Michael Hodgkinson said he didn't know why the man stayed in the area.

"I know he wasn't happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff," the shooter's brother told the newspaper.

Until recently, Hodgkinson ran a home-inspection business out of his house in southern Illinois.
His Facebook page shows he was a fan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sanders acknowledged Wednesday that Hodgkinson had apparently been among many volunteers on his 2016 campaign.

A search of online newspapers shows that Hodgkinson frequently wrote letters to his local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, which published nearly two dozen of them between 2010 and 2012. Many included complaints about the same theme: income inequality.
Hodgkinson also had arrests in his background for a series of minor offenses and at least one more serious matter. Court records show that his legal trouble started in the 1990s with arrests for resisting police and drunken driving.
In 2006, he was arrested on a battery charge after allegedly punching a woman in the face, then striking her boyfriend in the head with the wooden stock of a 12-gauge shotgun before firing a round at the man, according to a sheriff's department report.

While trying to drive away from that confrontation, the report said, Hodgkinson used a pocket knife to cut a seat belt. The charges were dismissed later that year, according to the court clerk.

Though no other legal problems are listed in St. Clair County, which includes Belleville, since 2011, Hodgkinson did come to the attention of local law enforcement as recently as last spring.

On March 24, Bill Schaumleffel recalled hearing shots being fired outside his house, which stands about 500 feet behind Hodgkinson's home. When he went outside, he saw Hodgkinson shooting a rifle into a cornfield. He was squeezing off five or six rounds at a time, according to the report of the incident, and fired about 50 shots in all.

"I yelled, 'Quit shooting toward the houses,'" Schaumleffel said.

When Hodgkinson refused to stop, Schaumleffel called the sheriff's department.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said Wednesday that Hodgkinson showed the deputy all required firearms licenses and documentation for the high-powered hunting rifle, which he said he was simply using for target practice.

The deputy cautioned Hodgkinson about shooting around homes, given that the rounds can travel up to a mile. No charges were filed.

Shooting renews debate over gun control, with ironic twist
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The mass shooting at GOP baseball practice Wednesday has renewed the gun control debate in America with an ironic twist.

The debate over gun control has always been contentious and Wednesday's shooting added more fuel to the fire, even as many in congress called for politicians to lower the volume on political rhetoric.

The irony of the shooting is not lost on most members of Congress: Republican congressmen, most of whom support gun rights, were the target of a gunman with a high-powered weapon.

"I'm a Second Amendment supporter and the question is, how do you prevent someone with a mental illness or a will to go commit mass atrocities," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).

One congressman pointed out the gunman fired dozens of rounds without needing to stop and reload. Gun control advocates agreed.

"I think the time for reflection is long past. You have another shooting. This isn't stopping. We need to do something about it now," said Colleen Daley, Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence.

The shooting sparked renewed debate over gun control and came amidst calls from congress to tone down the political rhetoric, something that is already proving difficult to do.

"Gun control is probably the most divisive political issue in the nation and has been for a very long time. And we see incidents like this again and again and again, and people just dig in deeper," said Laura Washington, ABC7 political analyst.

Even as congressmen and congresswomen call for scaled down rhetoric, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Republicans, who she said blame Democratic rhetoric for yesterday's attack.

"Clearly the nation is polarized, there's a lot of anger out there. Obviously we need to be examples helping people, reminding people that it needs to be channeled in a constructive fashion," said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL).

Pelosi called the Republican accusations outrageous and pointed out that President Trump used violent language on the campaign trail. She said everyone should examine his or her own conscience.

A ballgame of unity, spirit, friendly rivalry, won by Dems
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Democrats beat Republicans 11-2 in their annual chairty baseball game, but the event was far more focused on unity and honoring injured congressman Steve Scalise.

Republicans and Democrats joined in a spirited, friendly rivalry Thursday at their annual Congressional Baseball game, many fresh from the penetrating horror of the ballfield shooting rampage a day earlier and all playing in honor of their grievously wounded colleague.

The game at Nationals Park carried on a century-old bipartisan ritual, this one tinged with worry about Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and the players' determination to answer the attack by coming together in sport. Democrats won in an 11-2 blowout.

In a final flourish of bipartisan camaraderie for the night, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, his team's manager, accepted the trophy, then gave it to his GOP counterpart, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, to put in Scalise's office on behalf of the Democrats. After accepting it gracefully, Barton cracked, "Next year we won't be so nice."

A huge ovation came from the crowd, which swelled to a record 24,959, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the attack on Republicans at their ball practice in Virginia, threw out the first pitch. "ONE FAMILY," proclaimed a sign in the crowd. The announcer's mention of Scalise, the House majority whip who was critically wounded in the attack Wednesday, brought the masses to their feet.

Scalise remained listed in critical condition Thursday night after multiple surgeries, though word came from the hospital during the game that he had improved.

"By playing tonight we are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy," said President Donald Trump, appearing on the park's giant screen but not attending. "The game will go on."

When the president intoned three words he said have brought Americans together for generations - "Let's play ball" - cheers rang out. But despite the unifying nature of the event, there were boos for the president, too, from the section for Democratic fans on the third base side.

Before the event, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, "Tonight we will go to the game, play our hardest, but we will all be Team Scalise."

Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee scored in the first inning, enjoying a different sort of adrenaline than the one he experienced Wednesday when he passed by the shooter over bloodied ground to take shelter in a dugout - confessing later that "the fear factor was horrific."

On that day, a man later identified as the attacker approached Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina in the parking lot of the Alexandria, Virginia, ballfield, asking him, "Excuse me, sir, who's practicing today, Democrats or Republicans?" as Duncan recalls the encounter. He said Republicans were on the field, shortly before the gunman began shooting at them.

Duncan found that memory hard to shake Thursday night as he stood in for Scalise at second base.

"That was tough for me," Duncan said. "That was humbling in a way. It was never off my mind when I ran out there ... the reason I was going to second base was Steve Scalise, my colleague, was fighting for his life in the hospital right now."

There was plenty of amateur-hour baseball in the event, but also some breakout play.

As in the past several years, Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, a close friend of his wounded Republican colleague and a player in his college days, dominated much of the night, from the mound and the plate. Democrats opened an 11-2 lead in the fifth inning on the strength of his pitching, and by then he had scored every time he was up. That lasted until the end of the seven-inning game.

Despite the bipartisan motivation behind the game, especially this year, partisanship was hardly abandoned as Democrats and Republicans faced off, each side seriously itching for a win. Republicans and Democrats sat in different parts of the park - fans could state their party preference when buying tickets. Baseball cards handed out as fans entered the park identified the players' partisan voting percentages.

And even as the fans rose as one to cheer Scalise's name and the Capitol Police, there was no mistaking the lusty cheers for their own side as the game progressed. Still, the divide was good-natured, for once.

From the stands, Vince Wetzel, a resident of Sacramento, California, who is visiting Washington and decided to take in the game, said, "It's just a good call to put aside political differences and just play some baseball."

Lucee Laursen of La Crosse, Wisconsin, interning in the capital for a nonprofit, said, "It's showing that we might have differences in political spheres but we come together for a good cause."

Scalise was fielding balls at second base during the practice Wednesday when he was shot in the hip, and sustained serious injuries as the bullet traveled through his pelvis and injured internal organs.

The congressional game, which dates to 1909 and is a summertime tradition on Capitol Hill, is a rare example of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized Washington. Long-ago Little Leaguers now in Congress don their spikes and dust off their gloves in a game played for claiming top dog status and to benefit several charities.

The charities are the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, Washington Literacy Center, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and, after Wednesday's shooting, the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

Once a relatively cozy affair, played at a minor league ballpark in Maryland, the game has gone big time in recent years and has been played at Nationals Park, just a few blocks from the Capitol.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred offered his thoughts and prayers after the shooting and endorsed the decision to play ball. He said he hoped the game would help heal emotional wounds.

With Thursday's game, Democrats have won 40 of the contests over the years. Republicans have won 39, and they tied once.

Democrats bounced back from a loss last year, when the game was played the night after they held an all-night session on the House floor to protest Republican inaction on gun legislation.

WLS-TV contributed to this report.
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