ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The shots rang out shortly after 7 am, from the third base side of the baseball field where the local high school team plays, and where Republican members of Congress were practicing for an upcoming charity game. Suddenly those members were hopping a fence and taking shelter in a dog park. One was lying on the outfield grass, apparently hit.
In the dog park, Noah Nathan clutched two leashes. He watched bullets ricochet off a dirt path beyond the right field fence. He heard a cry go up from the players left on the field, directed toward the officers who were swinging into action.
"Shoot him!" they yelled.
Tuesday morning a man whom authorities named as James T. Hodgkinson stormed the congressional baseball practice with what appeared to be a rifle and a handgun. Capitol and Alexandria police officers engaged him in a shootout, and he later died of his wounds. The melee injuring five other people, including a member of Congress, Steve Scalise; a staffer in Rep. Roger Williams’s office, Zachary Barth; a lobbyist for Tyson Foods, Matt Mika; and two Capitol Police officers, David Bailey and Crystal Griner, according to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office.
All the victims have been rushed to nearby hospitals, according to officials. Scalise is reported to be in critical condition. It’s still unclear what motivated the shooter to go on the rampage.
Police responded to the event at 7:09 am. Hodgkinson was shot by 7:14 am. What happened in between terrified all those who witnessed it.
The attack shattered the dawn of a hot morning on the edge of a quiet and trendy suburban neighborhood. The shots sounded like pop-pops to the neighbors who were out running or standing on their porches, like maybe a nail gun on a construction site, until the moment a bullet whizzed down the block over their heads. Witnesses said the gunfire came in several bursts.
"It seemed like an eternity," said Holly Jackson, who hid in the dog park with her collie/Great Pyrenees mix, Cooper, as the shooting unfolded.
The field sits near the Northwest corner of a sprawling city sports complex, between the dog park and a YMCA, and bordered on two sides by residential streets. The Republican players had been practicing frequently here. The dog park regulars were used to seeing them.
On a side street a block behind the field, David Witebsky was finishing a morning run when he heard the first round of pops from the direction of the YMCA. He saw a woman getting out of her car, yelling there was gunfire at the Y. Another man was hiding behind a tree. Witebsky realized where the shots were coming from. "My immediate concern," he said, "was that there were kids over there."
Witebsky ran up the block, toward his house which is only a few dozen yards from the Y. He tried to climb his back fence but heard a shot zip over his head. He retreated to a neighbor's house and pounded on the back door until someone let him inside.
Dave, 50, a Hill staffer who lives in Alexandria, was finishing his workout at the YMCA Wednesday morning when he saw police officers exchange gunfire with a man he described as "wearing a blue T-shirt in his 50s with a big white beard." (Dave refused to give his last name.) A window at the gym looks out onto the baseball field.
"[The shooter] was hiding behind what looked like a cement building, and they were going back and forth shooting," Dave said. "He got hit at least once and then it looked like he got back up — I don't know if he was wearing armor. Once he went down at first it was like, 'Oh, finally,' but then he got right back up and started pointing his pistol [at police]."
It was unclear to the witness how many officers were on scene. "They were behind a truck or SUV, so I can't say how many there were," he said. "But obviously it was just one shooter and he was walking toward them after he got shot a first time."
Dave added: "He definitely went down the first time. That's when I think his long rifle dropped. After the window got hit by a bullet I stopped looking but I could still see him moving toward them with what looked like a pistol."
Another witness, Reba Winstead, said she believed — based on a conversation with a neighbor who had been in the military and also heard the attack unfold — that there had been several calibers of weapons fired, suggesting the assailant had paused at times to switch guns.
Winstead was standing outside her house, directly behind the Y, when the shooting began. She watched two people flee the scene, unhurt. She too heard a shot fly overhead: "I said, that's a bullet coming down our street."
In the dog park, Nathan held his golden doodles tight and pulled out his cell phone to record the incident. He later turned it over to police in hopes of aiding the investigation. Jackson, who recognized the shots immediately for what they were, waited for a break in the shots and then ran for cover with other people and animals.
"The dogs were all scared of the gunshots," she said. "They were terrified, just like the people."