ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It started as an idyllic morning for baseball, two dozen Republican congressmen and aides attending practice and escaping, for a moment, the rancor of Washington. Then the bullets started to fly.
“I was on deck about to hit and I hear, bam!” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said. “And I look around and behind third base in the third base dugout, I see a rifle. And I see a little bit of a body 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.”
Scalise, the third-highest-ranking member of the House GOP leadership, crumpled to the ground near second base, where he had been fielding ground balls here at Eugene Simpson Stadium. Horrified lawmakers described watching as a helpless Scalise screamed in pain and began crawling toward the outfield grass, leaving a trail of blood behind him.
“I wanted to get to him but there were still shots going overhead from both sides,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “Finally, when the shooter was down, I just ran low out to Steve.”
After a 10-minute firefight, police took down the lone shooter — described by witnesses as a white male with dark hair in his 40s — but not before he had created carnage. In addition to Scalise, a congressional staffer and two Capitol Police officers were wounded.
As local and Capitol police, firefighters, FBI agents and ATF officials scoured the scene – helicopters flying overhead – questions began flying about the incident. Was the shooter targeting lawmakers? Republicans? Was he alone? Lawmakers and staff at the game eventually migrated to a nearby basketball court, surrounded by security, as law enforcement secured the scene, and confusion still reigned.
All of Washington quickly ground to a halt — votes in Congress were canceled for the day, hearings on major legislation were nixed, and a Democratic press conference hitting President Donald Trump was called off. Trump quickly tweeted, sending well-wishes to Scalise, who was airlifted to a hospital for treatment. For a moment, at least, the intense partisanship gripping Washington lifted. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle prayed for the wounded. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) told reporters he intended to visit Scalise in the hospital.
The episode began during batting practice. A burst of gunfire rang out shortly after 7 a.m., startling residents and pedestrians and sending local coffee shop employees fleeing for cover. Two residents said they assumed the noise was construction – until it didn’t stop.
It was in that first burst of fire when Scalise, the House majority whip, went down. He had been taking ground balls at second base, witnesses said. The shooter, according to witnesses, approached from the third base side and perched behind a nearby fence when he began firing.
Scalise’s colleagues watched, horrified, from the dugout, fearful for their own lives, as a hail of gunfire erupted and Capitol Police returned fire at the shooter, who was eventually taken down.
Flake described lawmakers’ effort to protect Rep. Joe Barton’s 10-year-old son by shielding him in a nearby dugout. Members described Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a doctor, rushing to Scalise’s side as soon as the shooter was taken down by police. He was preparing to cut Scalise’s pant leg off to begin treatment before a helicopter came and evacuated Scalise to a nearby hospital. Others on hand included Reps. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), Roger Williams (R-Texas) and Joe Barton (R-Texas). Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) also received medical attention, Brooks said.
Flake said he grabbed Scalise’s phone and called the leader’s wife. A short while later, he fielded a call from Mark Kelly, the husband of his former Arizona colleague Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head years ago by a crazed gunman while holding a public event in her district.
Brooks provided the most vivid account of the shooting itself. He said he was along the third base line when the first shots rang out, which he noted put him the closest to Scalise.
“You can imagine all the people in the field scatter. I run around to the first base side of home plate. We have a batting cage with plastic wrapped around it to stop foul balls. I was lying on the ground as gunfire continued. Heard a break in the gunfire and decided to take a chance,” he said.
Brooks said he ran into the first base dugout where multiple members of Congress and staffers had taken cover. One aide, he said, had been shot, so Brooks said he took off his belt and used it as a tourniquet “to try to slow down the bleeding.” Soon, Capitol Police began returning fire.
“There must have been 50 shots fired,” he said. “There were some congressman on the phone screaming for reinforcements. Seemed like a long time and we weren’t even hearing sirens from local police officers which tells me they didn’t yet know what was going on.
Lawmakers described a seen of confusion followed by sheer terror.
"I felt like I was back in Iraq,” Wenstrup, a former combat surgeon in the U.S. Army Reserve, told CBS News.
“I grew up in the South. I’m used to hearing an occasional shotgun and it didn’t sound like a rifle,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) “And then there were a couple of seconds. Everybody looked up and heard the sounds. But we were about ready to come back and do our business. Then five or ten shots in a row quickly rang out and that’s when everybody was hitting the dirt.”
Flake, clearly shaken, spoke to reporters dressed in his congressional baseball team uniform, the word “Republicans” emblazoned on his shirt. Brooks, wearing jean shorts and his batting glove, recounted the panic in vivid detail.
Flake told reporters that he had recently finished batting and outfield practice and was watching other players hit when the initial series of shots were fired in what the Arizona senator described as a “rapid succession.” The shooter used a “large gauge” rifle, according to Flake.
Two of the victims were members of Scalise’s Capitol police detail, Flake said, one of whom was shot in the leg but continued to return fire against the gunman. It was that officer with the leg wound that ultimately took down the gunman, Flake said.
Flake said he was the first person to reach Scalise and administer aid, quickly joined by Wenstrup and others. The Arizona senator said Scalise was conscious and coherent through the entire incident.
The gunman appeared to be acting alone, Flake said, though members and police feared a second shooter could be hiding. He said it was likely that the shooter intended to target members of Congress.
“You’ve got to assume he knew what he was doing here,” Flake said. “Whether he was targeting certain members, we don’t know.”
Flake, in an interview with reporters at the scene, estimated that the entire incident lasted around 10 minutes and that there were roughly 25 members of Congress present.
“Well, people know this is the Republican baseball team practicing. You can tell. You can recognize many of us. You can see our security detail,” Brooks said. “It is not a secret that we’re practicing over here and the Democrats are practicing at a different place and I’m not going to divulge where that is under these circumstances. It’s no question that he knew who we were and what he was intending to do, in my judgment, and I’m a former prosecutor in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville and yeah, he was going after elected officials, congressmen.”