The Republican lawmakers and their aides had nearly finished batting practice at an Alexandria 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 a torrent of bullets, 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 the ground. He screamed and then dragged himself to the grass outfield as a trail of blood streaked the dirt.
“Hit the ground!” people yelled.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who was holding a bat and waiting to hit, briefly hid before diving into the first-base dugout, where about a dozen people had taken cover. Inside, he found Zack Barth, a legislative aide who, after being struck in the leg, had hobbled all the way across the field.
“It’s not bad,” Barth assured him.
“Dude, you’ve got a hole in your calf,” Brooks responded, before cinching a tourniquet above the wound.
The 10-year-old son of Rep. Joe Barton (Tex.), 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 leapt a fence and fled. All around, bullets whistled overhead and 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 and 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 exploded off an oak tree just behind Loudermilk, an Air Force veteran, as he realized that Matt Mika, a Tyson Foods lobbyist, was sprawled across the ground with a bullet wound in his chest. Every time they moved to help him, Loudermilk said, more shooting erupted.
“Someone help me,” screamed a woman nearby who had been walking her four dogs and was now lying flat on the dirt. When no one could get to her, she belly-crawled under a car.
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, Ill.
Griner took a round to the ankle and slumped to the ground.
In an effort to draw fire away from the lawmakers, Loudermilk said, Bailey shifted his position and was struck by shrapnel — but kept returning fire.
“If it hadn’t have been for those two officers,” Loudermilk said, “it would have been a carnage.”
Within minutes, Alexandria police arrived, their sirens wailing.
Just as one of those officers emerged from a car, Loudermilk said, Hodgkinson fired 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 at 7:14 a.m. When he didn’t, they shot him.
Hodgkinson, who later died, was a home inspector who had volunteered for Sen. 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.”
Hodgkinson, investigators said later, had been living out of his white cargo van since March. He had been hanging out for weeks — often early in the morning — at the YMCA next to the park. He often talked with former Alexandria mayor William D. Euille, who tended to work out around the same time.
Euille didn’t make it to the YMCA on Wednesday morning but learned from a manager that Hodgkinson had come to the gym. Around 7 a.m., Hodgkinson walked toward the ballfield.
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, ‘Okay, 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 neighborhood front porches and shattered windows at the adjacent YMCA.
“People were shaking,” said Charles Halloran, who lives about a block from the park.
When the gunfire stopped and Flake heard someone say the shooter was down, he sprinted out to Scalise, who asked for water. Flake pressed his hand against the wound until someone cut away his uniform and a doctor applied gauze to stem the bleeding. He then found Scalise’s phone and called his wife so she wouldn’t hear what had happened through a news report.
Bailey, one of the officers who had been injured, limped out onto the field to check on the lawmaker he had fought to protect.
Meanwhile, Loudermilk rushed to Mika. The congressman knelt and prayed with him as paramedics flooded the area, scrambling to treat six people — including the shooter — who had been injured.
Soon, each would be rushed to hospitals. Scalise was in critical condition following surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Mika’s family released a statement saying he, too, was in critical condition after undergoing surgery at George Washington University Hospital for multiple gunshot wounds.
Seven miles away on Capitol Hill, the routine of a busy morning ended.
Votes and speeches were canceled. President Trump tweeted that “his thoughts and prayers” were with Scalise. Lawmakers stared at televisions, awaiting updates on their colleagues. A psychologist offered post-traumatic stress counseling.
At the Democrats’ baseball practice, members were called off the field and held in the dugout under police protection. Several gathered to pray.
Hours after the bloodshed ended, Flake still wore his red-and-white baseball uniform, the word “Republicans” imprinted on the front. He walked, shaken, to his car near the fields.
One person, standing on his balcony overlooking the park, yelled down at him: “We’re glad you’re safe, Jeff.”