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Senior US Congressman Scalise among people shot at baseball practice near Washington, DC

© Win McNamee, AFP | Investigators and men dressed in baseball gear gather at Eugene Simpson Field, the site where a gunman opened fire June 14, 2017 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Video by Philip CROWTHER

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-15

A gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington early on Wednesday, wounding several people, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise, before being killed by police.

Five people were transported medically from the scene in Alexandria, the city’s police chief, Michael Brown told reporters. Two of the wounded were Capitol Hill police who were at the scene, witnesses said.

The shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Illinois who had several minor run-ins with the law in recent years and belonged to a Facebook group called "Terminate the Republican Party." He had been living out of his van in the Alexandria area in recent months, the FBI said.

In a dramatic blow-by-blow account, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama told CNN the gunman was armed with a rifle and appeared to be a white male.

Brooks said he saw the man only for a second, and that he was shooting from a chain link fence behind the third base position on the field where the congressional group was holding an early morning practice ahead of a game against Democrats this week.

“There must have been 50 to 100 shots fired,” he told CNN. “I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot,” said Brooks, adding he helped apply a tourniquet with his belt to a congressional staffer who was shot in the leg.

“One of our security detail was shooting back, but it was our pistol versus the shooter’s rifle,” Brooks said. “The only weapon I had was a baseball bat.”

House majority leader Kevin McCarthy told a local ABC affiliate that Scalise is out of surgery and “doing well”.

However, the hospital where he was taken, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said in an update late Wednesday that Scalise remains in a critical condition.

"The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding," a statement said.

"He will require additional operations."

Republican Senator Jeff Flake told local ABC-TV Scalise was shot in the left hip.

Scalise’s position as whip in the Republican-controlled House makes him one of the most senior figures in Congress. He is a representative from Louisiana.

In a national address, US president Donald Trump appealed for unity following the shooting, which came amid bitterly partisan political tension in the US capital in the aftermath of a vitriol-filled 2016 election.

"We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good," said the president.

He said the shooter had died of his injuries after being wounded when Capitol Police officers who in Scalise's security detail returned fire.

Trump said in an earlier Twitter message that Scalise, “a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him".

He and First Lady Melania Trump later visited Scalise in hospital, bringing flowers.

‘Going after elected officials’

The FBI said it had recovered and was attempting to trace two weapons, a rifle and a handgun, and was actively investigating Hodgkinson's "associates, whereabouts, social media impressions, and potential motivations."

According to his Facebook page, Hodgkinson was a fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, the feisty independent who battled Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. His social media posts displayed strong anti-Trump sentiment.

Sanders swiftly responded to reports the suspect had volunteered on his presidential campaign.

"I am sickened by this despicable act," he said.

"Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms."

The group of congressmen were practising for the annual Democrats versus Republicans congressional baseball game that was scheduled to be played on Thursday.

“It’s pretty well known in the neighborhood who those folks are on the baseball field,” Brooks said. “It’s not a secret we are practising ... He was going after elected officials.”

Democrats were also practising at another field at a different location, CNN reported.

Reba Winstead lives across the street from the parking lot of the park where the shooting occurred.

“I was on my front porch and that is when I heard the first round of shots. There was about a dozen shots. There was a pause. Then there was more shooting. I called 911.”

Trump, a Republican, said in a statement that he and Vice President Mike Pence were monitoring developments closely.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected,” he said.

Steve Scalise is the third-highest ranked member of the Republican leadership in the House, and has the difficult job of trying to keep order in the fractious party ranks and rounding up votes for bills.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP and AP)

 

Date created : 2017-06-14

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