The day before he turned a semiautomatic rifle on congressional Republican baseball players and was fatally shot in a firefight with police, James T. Hodgkinson went on a profane rant against President Trump at a nearby garage.
Law enforcement officials continue piecing together the final nomadic months of the shooter whose anger toward Trump apparently erupted in a rage of gunfire that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others wounded at the Alexandria field where the team was holding practice.
Among the many remaining questions for investigators is whether Hodgkinson — a 66-year-old unemployed home inspector from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill. — had long planned Wednesday’s assault and had possibly studied the movements of lawmakers in the months he spent living in his van in Northern Virginia.
Hodgkinson bought the high-powered 7.62mm rifle and a 9mm handgun he used in the ambush from licensed gun dealers, according to the FBI, which said Thursday that it had no evidence suggesting the sales were illegal.
He had been living in his white cargo van on a street in Alexandria, the FBI has said, and it was that van that Hodgkinson pulled into the Del Ray Service Center around 10 a.m. Tuesday, said manager Crist Dauberman, 47.
“The gentleman — the shooter — came in and he asked me to put air in his tires,” Dauberman said. They made small talk. Hodgkinson said he had a home inspection business back in Illinois but had been in Alexandria for a while and had been looking for temporary work.
Dauberman said that when he mentioned he worked six days a week, Hodgkinson erupted into a tirade against the president rife with profanity.
Amid the torrent of expletives, Dauberman recalled Thursday, Hodgkinson’s central point was that the president had messed up the country “more than anyone in the history of this country.”
The intensity of the outburst made Dauberman step back, he recalled. Hodgkinson was passionate, waving his arms and speaking in a loud, deep voice, Dauberman said. “It was a little abnormal,” he said. So he changed the subject back to tires, and with that, he said, Hodgkinson’s anger “fizzled.”
But Hodgkinson also suggested to the mechanic that he was planning to head back to Illinois; he asked whether the newly inflated tires would be able to carry him back to the Midwest.
The garage is just a few blocks from the baseball field where the following day, Hodgkinson fired on the GOP lawmakers, staffers and others as they practiced for Thursday’s charity ballgame against Democrats.
Of those hospitalized after the shooting, Scalise remained in critical condition Thursday night but had improved over the previous 24 hours, according to officials at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Special Agent Crystal Griner, U.S. Capitol Police, also was treated and remained in good condition Thursday. Lobbyist Matt Mika was upgraded Thursday afternoon from critical to serious, according to a statement from George Washington University Hospital, where he had been taken.
[He’s got a gun!’ At a congressional baseball practice, a burst of gunfire and a lawmaker down]
Sue Hodgkinson, the wife of the shooter, told a group of reporters outside her home in Belleville on Thursday that she had no idea her husband was planning violence when he left for the Washington area.
She also said her husband had recently run out of money when reporters asked her about accounts that he was headed home, according to video posted by KTVI in St. Louis.
Hodgkinson said her husband left their home in a rural area outside St. Louis two months ago saying only that he wanted to go to Washington to “work with people to change the tax brackets.” She declined to discuss his political views, saying that “he really didn’t say much.” When asked whether he had become fed up with the political system, she said: “Probably.”
She said Hodgkinson made preparations for leaving, selling almost everything he owned from his business before the trip. A neighbor told The Washington Post that Hodgkinson put his motorcycle up for sale this spring.
Sue Hodgkinson also said that her daughter had recently moved back home and has a 2-year-old child, and that her husband was home all day with them and “just wanted a break from it.”
There was no warning that there would be any violence, she said.
“I had no idea this was going to happen, and I don’t know what to say about it,” she said. “I can’t wrap my head around it. . . . I’m sorry that he did this, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”
The rifle he used was an SKS, according to two law enforcement officials, which is a semiautomatic rifle designed in the Soviet Union. While it fires the same round as the early versions of the Kalashnikov, it can fire only in a semiautomatic mode unless the trigger is specially modified.
The weapon, while not as accurate as more-modern rifles, can still be lethal at close to medium ranges. The rifles are widely available at U.S. gun stores and are inexpensive, compared with other semiautomatic weapons such as the AR-15 family of rifles. The SKS is usually loaded from a 10-round clip of bullets inserted through the top of the weapon, but it can be modified to fire from a detachable magazine.
For a man given to passionate political tirades against conservatives and the “super rich,” Hodgkinson appears in his social-media postings to have taken little interest in local politics, which lean toward the conservative side of the Democratic spectrum and have for decades, according to St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook.
Holbrook said Hodgkinson wasn’t active among Democrats there. “He didn’t run with the pack — he was a lone wolf,” Holbrook said.
On Thursday morning, FBI agents swarmed through Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood.
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The baseball field, a parking lot and a YMCA facility remained closed Thursday, as did several streets in the area. Hodgkinson’s white van remained parked in the YMCA lot until the FBI had it towed about 4:30 p.m.
As part of its investigation, the FBI scoured the vehicle, recovering a cellphone, computer and camera.
Throughout the day, Alexandria residents who had had chance encounters with Hodgkinson continued to look back on them.
Hodgkinson was in the YMCA on Sunday afternoon, according to Del Ray resident Kris Balderston, who said he had seen Hodgkinson in the gym before, alone and not in workout clothes.
“He always stood out as somebody who was not attached to anybody,” Balderston said.
Balderston said that on Sunday, Hodgkinson was climbing on and off a stationary bike, walking in and out of the room and “talking back to the news, switching among all three stations.”
[After shooting at GOP baseball practice, investigators probe trail of political anger left by attacker]
Hodgkinson reportedly was also a regular presence in recent weeks on Mount Vernon Avenue, the main commercial street through the Del Ray neighborhood.
Sara Robishaw, a server at Junction Bakery and Bistro, said she began noticing him about three weeks ago, sitting on a bench in front of the Walgreens drugstore across the street from her shop.
“I felt bad for the guy,” she said. “He’d be sitting on the bench all day in the hot sun with his black bag.”
As an area native, Robishaw is familiar with many of the homeless men and women in the neighborhood, and had not seen him before three weeks ago.
“I thought he was a new homeless person” in the neighborhood, Robishaw said.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Ann E. Marimow in Washington and Peter Holley and Kurt Shillinger in Belleville contributed to this report.