Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) left congressional Republicans’ baseball practice mere minutes before a gunman opened fire there, injuring several people including a member of House leadership. Duncan didn’t learn about what happened until after he had returned to the Capitol, showered, changed, and then got a call from a former member of Congress asking if he was among the wounded.
“That’s the first I heard of it,” Duncan told reporters in the basement of the Capitol.
Then, he said, it slowly dawned on him that as he was leaving the field just after 7 a.m., he had a brief interaction with a strange man who he now believes to be the shooting suspect, identified by several news outlets as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson.
“I actually fist pumped [Rep. Steve] Scalise on the way off the field, because I ran around the mound,” Duncan recounted. “And then we get to the parking lot….[Rep. Ron] DeSantis is already in the car. I am getting in when this guy approaches.”
“He looked like a normal resident,” Duncan said. “He had on a reddish-colored shirt. Nothing in his hands at all, that I noticed. I didn’t think anything of it because that’s a public exercise area. There’s a YMCA. There’s a dog park. For seven years I’ve practiced out there and seen a lot of residents exercising and watching us.”
This interaction, however, stood out to him as different.
“He knew it was members of Congress playing, but he asked me if we were Democrats or Republicans,” Duncan continued. “I told him it’s the Republican team. He said, ‘Okay, thanks,’ and turned around,” Duncan said. “It was the guy they identified later as the shooter. And now that the Washington Post has released the picture I know it was the guy. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Once he made the connection, Duncan says he called the Alexandria, Virginia Police Department to give a witness statement and later drove to their office to give it again in person.
Authorities have not divulged any information about the suspect in the baseball practice shooting, and Tim Slater, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation, said in a press conference that it was too early to say whether the gunman intentionally targeted the lawmakers as an act of political violence. But Duncan said that based on what the red-shirted man said to him, he believes the members were attacked because they were Republicans.
“I’m shaken up,” he said. “My colleagues were targeted today by somebody that wanted to kill us.”
Other House Republicans who were still on the field when the shooting occurred gave their accounts of the shooting to various reporters and TV networks, tearing up as they recalled how Capitol Police officers took down the gunman and saved their lives.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) said he was on first base when the bullets began to fly.
“People started running off the field. I went behind the first base dugout, trying to see where the shooter was. Scalise was down in the outfield. One of the staffers was down behind a car, having been shot in the chest,” he recalled. “The shooter was still shooting and two Capitol Police officers were returning fire. I was trying to point the guy out to them. One bullet hit a tire and ricocheted to hit a Capitol Police woman in the ankle. She goes down. The Alexandria Police began to engage and between them and the remaining Capitol Police officer fighting, they got the guy to drop his rifle and then they shoot him. They put him in handcuffs.”
“Had the gunman gotten inside the fence, gotten into the dugout where much of the team was holed up, it could have been much worse,” he added. “He would have been shooting fish in a barrel.”
A tearful Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), still wearing his baseball uniform with his grey hair covered by a red cap, told reporters that his 10-year-old son had been with him at the field when the shooting occurred.
“The real heroes are the officers who attacked the shooter and in doing so probably saved many, many lives,” said Barton, his voice cracking with emotion.
Following a briefing on the shooting for all 435 members of the U.S. House, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) told reporters that she and other military veterans were discussing offering PTSD counseling to their colleagues who were shot or witnessed the shooting.
“We kind of know how this feels,” said McSally, who served in the Air Force and deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. “So we’re talking about offering ourselves up for some support in a specific way, talking about what kind of things you go through when you see people near you hurt or injured and how that plays out with different emotions. Unfortunately, those feelings are familiar to those of us who have been in combat, so the least we can do is offer some perspectives for what they just when through.”