The Republican lawmakers and their aides had nearly finished batting practice at an Alexandria, Va., park Wednesday when they heard a single crack through the sticky early-morning air. For a moment, the field went quiet as they wondered what the noise was.
“He’s got a gun!” someone shouted.
Then came an explosion of gunfire, and there, behind a chain-link fence near third base, was a man with a rifle.
One round hit Steve Scalise, the majority whip from Louisiana, in the hip, dropping him to ground. He screamed, then dragged himself to the grass outfield as a trail of blood streaked the dirt. Scalise was in critical condition Wednesday afternoon after surgery.
“Hit the ground!” somebody else yelled.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., did just that before he got up and dove into the first-base dugout, where about a dozen people had taken cover. Inside, he found Zach Barth, a legislative aide who, after being struck in the leg, had hobbled all the way across the field. Brooks took off his belt and cinched a tourniquet around Barth’s calf.
The 10-year-old son of Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who coaches the GOP congressional baseball team, dove for cover under an SUV. Some of the 20 or so people at the field sprinted into the nearby dog park as others leaped a fence and fled. All around, bullets ricocheted off the ground, spraying bits of gravel into the air.
“It was bedlam,” Brooks said.
By then, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., had already hidden behind a wooden shack beyond the dugout.
In front of him were two members of Scalise’s security detail who had just popped out of a black SUV. In suits with guns drawn, they returned fire.
“Are you friendly? Are you friendly?” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., screamed at one of them.
“Yes,” the man shouted back.
The shooter, wearing jeans and a blue shirt, methodically moved along the outside of the fence toward home plate, easing his way in their direction.
Then another burst of gunfire.
Chunks of bark popped off an oak just behind Loudermilk, an Air Force veteran, as he realized that Matt Mika, a Tysons Food lobbyist, was sprawled across the ground with a bullet wound in his chest.
“Every time we tried to move out to help him,” Loudermilk said, “the shooting began again.”
By then, the two Capitol Police officers, David Bailey and Crystal Griner, were in an intense, close-range firefight with the gunman, later identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson from Belleville, Illinois.
Griner took a round to the ankle and slumped to the ground.
In an effort to draw fire away from the members, Loudermilk said, Bailey shifted his position and was also struck - but kept returning fire.
“If it hadn’t of been for those two officers,” Loudermilk said, “it would have been a carnage.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. About three minutes before the shooting, Paul had been batting at home plate. By the time the bullets came flying, Paul was in the batting cage outside of and to the right of the field.
Within minutes, Alexandria police arrived.
Just as one of those officers emerged from her car, Loudermilk said, Hodgkinson shot at her but missed, blowing out the window of a car on the street.
“There were people lying on the ground screaming, but he was targeting us,” Loudermilk said. “He wasn’t shooting at any of those folks. He was targeting members.”
More officers arrived, flushing the gunman from his cover. By then, Loudermilk said, Hodgkinson had switched from his rifle to a pistol.
“Drop your weapon,” an officer shouted, and when he didn’t, they shot him.
Hodgkinson, who died later, had been hanging out for weeks — often early in the morning — at the YMCA next to the park. A home inspector, he had volunteered for Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. A Facebook page believed to belong to him included a post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
About 10 minutes before the shooting began, Reps. Jeff Duncan, S.C., and Ron Desantis, Fla., said they spoke to a man they now believe was Hodgkinson.
Duncan, who was just about to leave the practice field, said he “asked me if the team practicing was a Democrat or Republican team.”
“I told him they were Republicans,” Duncan recalled. “He said, ‘OK, thanks,’ turned around.”
The congressmen didn’t learn until later what had happened.
“I’m making the assumption,” Duncan said, “he was targeting Republicans.”
During the rampage, which began just after 7 a.m., bullets whizzed by nearby front porches and shattered windows at the adjacent YMCA.
“People were shaking,” said Charles Halloran, who lives about a block form the park.
When the gunfire stopped and Flake heard someone say the shooter was down, he sprinted out to Scalise. He pressed his hand against the wound until a group cut away his uniform and a doctor applied gauze to stem the bleeding. Flake then found Scalise’s phone and called his wife so she wouldn’t hear what had happened from the news.
Meanwhile, Loudermilk rushed to Mika, who had been shot multiple times. The congressman knelt down and prayed with him as paramedics flood the area, scrambling to treat six different people — including the shooter.
Still wearing his baseball uniform — a red and white baseball shirt imprinted with “Republicans” — Flake remained shaken as he walked to his car near the field hours after the carnage.
One person, standing on his balcony overlooking the baseball field, yelled down at him: “We’re glad you’re safe, Jeff.”