A gunman fired shots at United States lawmakers Wednesday morning as they prepared for a baseball game.
The shooting took place just south of Washington, DC, in Alexandria, Virginia. The lawmakers all belong to the Republican Party.
Police said five people were taken to hospitals for treatment.
Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, 51, was shot in the hip, according to other lawmakers. Scalise is part of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
Scalise’s office said that before going into the operating room, the congressman “was in in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone.” He was reported in critical condition Wednesday afternoon, following an operation at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
Among the others injured were a former congressional aide and two security officers for Scalise. Members of Congress described the two officers, Crystal Griner and David Bailey, as heroes.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky spoke to MSNBC News. "Had they (the officers) not been there it would have been a massacre, because there's no escaping a guy if he's got several hundred bullets and we had no weapons and no place to hide."
Gunman died of injuries
Police identified the gunman as James Hodgkinson from the state of Illinois. The 66-year-old man was shot by a police officer, and later died of his injuries.
On social media, Hodgkinson expressed opposition to Republican President Donald Trump.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, said it appeared Hodgkinson volunteered for his campaign.
Sanders said he was sickened by Wednesday’s attack. “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,” he said.
Calls for unity
After the shooting, there were calls for unity from President Donald Trump and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
“We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.”
Paul Ryan, a Republican who serves as speaker of the House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi, the House’s top Democrat, both gave speeches. Lawmakers from both parties stood and cheered their calls for unity.
“We are united in our shock and anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” Ryan said.
Shots come during early-morning baseball practice
Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama said he was practicing baseball with about 20 to 25 other Republican members of Congress when he heard shots.
Brooks told CNN television that he saw the gunman for only a second. He said the man fired at least 50 shots from a fence behind the third-base position of a baseball field.
“I see a rifle, and I see a little bit of a body and then I hear another bam and I realize there’s still an active shooter. At the same time I hear Steve Scalise over at second base scream — he was shot,” Brooks said on CNN.
The gunman was taken down by shots from security officers, one of whom continued firing after being injured, Brooks said.
Brooks said he knew that if he could see the gunman’s face, “the shooter could see me.”
He also said that Scalise was shot in the hip. He then moved slowly into the baseball field’s outfield to get away from the shooter.
“There is not a lot you can do,” Brooks told CNN. “It was emotional to know the position he was in.”
Preparing for annual baseball game
The Republican lawmakers were preparing for a baseball game Thursday against congressional Democrats, who were also practicing early Wednesday. It is one of the few social events attended by members of both political parties.
The game, played in the ballpark of the Washington Nationals, raises money for charity. Ryan said the game would go ahead, as planned.
The last member of Congress to be shot was Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona. She was shot in the head in 2011 during a meeting with people who live in her congressional district.
Giffords said she knows personally what Scalise is going through and “the courage it takes to recover from a shooting like this.”
She wrote on Twitter: “May we all come together today with prayers for the survivors, love for their friends and family, and the courage to go about everyday making this country its best.”
I'm Anna Matteo.
Bruce Alpert reported on this story for VOA Learning English. His story was based on information from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and other sources. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
according – adv. as stated by or in
massacre - n. the violent killing of many people
anguish - n. extreme grief or pain
rifle - n. a gun that has a long barrel and that is held against your shoulder when you shoot it
charity – n. a goodwill gift for public purposes
courage - n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous