Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Virginia attack: Gunman who opposed Donald Trump goes on shooting spree against US lawmakers, dies in shootout; Congressman Steve Scalise injured

Congressman Steve Scalise, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, was expected to recover after being shot in the hip.
Undated social media photo of James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.

In a shocking incident, a rifle-wielding opponent of President Donald Trump opened fire on US lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game on Wednesday, injuring a top Republican congressman and four others before he was fatally injured in a shootout with police.
The 66-year-old gunman was identified as James T Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, an ardent supporter of left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders -- who said he was "sickened" by what he called a "despicable act".
In an address to the nation, Trump appealed for unity following the early morning assault in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Virginia, which came amid high political tension in the US capital after a vitriol-filled 2016 election.
"We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good," said the President.
Congressman Steve Scalise, the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, was expected to recover after being shot in the hip.
He was tended to by fellow lawmakers including Brad Wenstrup, an Ohio congressman who is a physician, before being transported to a hospital.
Also wounded were one current congressional staffer and one former staffer. Two Capitol Hill police officers were hospitalised after the incident but it was not clear if both were wounded by gunfire.
Trump described Scalise as a "very good friend", a "patriot" and a "fighter," telling him: "America is praying for you and America is praying for all of the victims of this terrible shooting."
FBI agent Tim Slater told a news conference that investigators were still "exploring all angles" and that it was too early to tell if the Republican lawmakers were deliberately targeted.
He would also not confirm a report by CBS that the gunman used a high-powered semi-automatic assault rifle.
According to his Facebook page, Hodgkinson was a fervent supporter of Sanders, the feisty independent who battled Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.
Hodgkinson`s social media posts displayed strong anti-Trump sentiment. Hodgkinson had raged against Trump on social media and was a member of many anti-Republican groups on Facebook including "The Road to Hell Is Paved With Republicans," "Terminate The Republican Party," and "Donald Trump is not my President," a search of what appeared to be his profile showed.
"I know he wasn`t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff," his brother, Michael Hodgkinson, told The New York Times. But he said news of the shooting came "totally out of the blue."
Media reports said Hodgkinson owned a home inspection business.
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."
All votes in the House of Representatives were cancelled for Wednesday, but the annual Congressional baseball game will go on as planned Thursday night at Nationals Park in the US capital.
The shooting took place at around 7:00 am (1100 GMT) as the Republican team practiced for the charity game, a well-loved showdown between Senate and House members of both the Republican and Democratic camps.
Congressman Rodney Davis told CNN he was up at bat at the time, and Scalise was in the field at second base.
"I was batting, we heard a loud noise.... The next thing I remember was somebody on the field yelling `Run, he`s got a gun.`"
Alexandria police chief Michael Brown said his officers arrived at the scene within three minutes, engaged the suspect together with Capitol Police officers, and took him into custody. The gunman later died of his injuries.
Trump praised the "heroic" acts of law enforcement in subduing the shooter.
"Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault," Trump said.
"Melania and I are grateful for their heroism and praying for the swift recovery of all victims."
Senator Rand Paul, also at the practice, said he believed the rapid intervention narrowly prevented a bloodbath.
"It would have been a massacre. And having no self-defense, the field was basically a killing field," Paul told reporters.
Asked whether he thought it was a random shooting, Republican lawmaker Mo Brooks -- who helped the wounded at the scene -- told CNN: "It sure as heck wasn`t an accident."
"People know this is the Republican baseball team practicing," he said. "He knew who we were."Scalise`s office said the 51-year-old was in stable condition at a Washington hospital after being shot in the hip.
"Prior to entering surgery, (Scalise) was in good spirits and spoke to his wife by phone," it added.
Brooks described Scalise dragging his body across the field to get away from the shooter while the firing continued.
After the shots subsided, he and others at the scene attempted to tend to Scalise`s wound, while Brooks took off his belt and used it as a tourniquet for a bleeding staffer who had been shot in the leg. Brooks estimated that there were 50 to 100 shots fired.
Two lawmakers who were at the scene, Representatives Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan, indicated there might have been a political motive in the attack.
Duncan said that as he left the field the man who would later open fire approached him in the parking lot. "He asked me who was practicing this morning, Republicans or Democrats, and I said. `That`s the Republicans practicing," Duncan told reporters.
DeSantis gave a similar account.
Brooks said the shooter said nothing during the rampage.
The shooting took place at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, which is across the Potomac River from Washington.
The shooting was certain to raise again the contentious issue of gun violence in the United States.
At a news conference near the scene of the shooting, Virginia`s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, urged gun control measures. "This is not what today is about, but there are too many guns on the street," McAuliffe said, citing a statistic that 93 Americans are killed with guns daily.
Scalise has been a strong opponent of gun control measures and has earned an "A+" rating from the National Rifle Association - the influential lobby for expanding gun ownership rights. He has co-sponsored legislation to weaken gun control laws in the District of Columbia.
Scalise, a representative from the southern state of Louisiana elected to Congress in 2008, heads the conservative House caucus known as the Republican Study Committee.
The staunch conservative is among the lawmakers leading the drive to repeal former president Barack Obama`s signature health care law, among other top Republican priorities.
Wednesday`s incident was the first shooting of a member of the US Congress since January 2011, when Democratic Representative Gabby Giffords was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt at a gathering of her constituents in Tucson, Arizona.
She survived, but six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.

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