ALEXANDRIA: Several people including a top Republican congressman were wounded in a Washington suburb early Wednesday morning when a gunman opened fire as they practiced for an annual baseball game between lawmakers.
Congressman Steve Scalise, the majority whip who rallies Republican votes in the House of Representatives and one of around two dozen lawmakers gathered at the baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, was badly injured by a gunshot to the hip, but in stable condition according to his office.
President Donald Trump tweeted a message of support to his “friend and patriot” Scalise, calling himself “deeply saddened” by the incident in Alexandria, where schools were briefly placed on lockdown following the incident.
Police said the suspect was detained within minutes of the shooting.
Officers were alerted to the presence of an active shooter just after 7 am (1100 GMT),” Alexandria police chief Michael Brown told a press conference. They arrived at the scene within three minutes, engaged the suspect and took him into custody.
Police said five people were transported medically from the scene. They did not release the identities of the victims but they were believed to include at least two law enforcement officers and a congressional staffer. The Washington Post reported that the gunman was counted among the five wounded.
MSNBC quoted a local hospital spokesman as saying two people were in critical condition.
Senator Rand Paul, who was at the scene, said he believed the rapid police intervention narrowly prevented a bloodbath.
“It would have been a massacre. And having no self-defense, the field was basically a killing field. If you were to run out while the killer was still shooting, he could have shot anybody,” he told reporters.
Fellow lawmakers described chaotic scenes as the shooting unfolded.
“I was on deck about to hit and I hear, ‘bam,'” Republican lawmaker Mo Brooks told CNN. “And then I hear another bam and I realize there is an active shooter.”
“At the same time I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot.”
Asked whether he thought it was a random shooting, Brooks 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. I’m a former prosecutor and, yeah, he was going after elected officials, congressmen.”
Held almost every year since 1909, the Congressional Baseball Game — which was slated to take place Thursday night at Nationals Park stadium in Washington — is a well-loved showdown between Senate and House members of both Republican and Democrat camps.
Dragging his body
Republican Senator Jeff Flake told reporters some 50 shots rang out in the exchange of fire between the gunman — described as a white man with dark hair, in his 40s or 50s — and law enforcement officers.
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 in a statement.
Trump described himself as “deeply saddened by this tragedy,” saying in a statement his “thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders and all others affected” and that he was closely monitoring developments.
Vice President Mike Pence cancelled a planned speech to the national homebuilders’ association and was headed to the White House instead.
“Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him,” Trump tweeted.
Brooks described Scalise dragging his body across the pitch 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.
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.