Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) left an early morning baseball practice just minutes before a gunman opened fire on Duncan’s Republican team Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Va.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the third-ranking member in the U.S. House of Representatives, and several other people were wounded in the attack.
“I am safe. I was at the Congressional baseball practice, but left before the shooting to catch an earlier meeting,” Duncan said in a Facebook message posted soon after the shooting occurred.
The annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity is scheduled for Thursday night at Washington Nationals Field. The fundraiser supports the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Washington Literacy Center.
During a Wednesday afternoon conference call, Duncan said he is positive that he spoke with suspected shooter James Hodgkinson as he left the ballpark. Hodgkinson was shot by Capitol Hill police and later died of his injuries at a hospital. Capitol Hill police were there as security for Scalise.
Duncan said during his brief encounter, the alleged gunman asked who was practicing – Democrats or Republicans. Though no motive has been released by investigators, Duncan said it is clear that the Republicans were targeted.
“Understanding that this was a Republican practice and the suspected shooter asked me who was practicing, he went to his car and got his gun and shot my colleagues, wounding Steve Scalise,” Duncan said.
Five people were taken to the hospital, including Scalise and Zach Barth, a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas).
Duncan said he and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) decided to leave the practice early along with a member of Duncan’s staff to beat the morning rush-hour traffic into Washington, D.C.
Had they stayed, DeSantis and Duncan, who play third base and shortstop, respectively, on the team, may have been among the first targeted by the shooter, who reportedly began his attack from behind the dugout on the third-base line.
“I almost started shaking because I thought this guy could’ve targeted me first,” Duncan said.
Duncan said he and DeSantis could also have been targets in the parking lot had the shooter had a pistol and the inclination.
Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) was at third base when bullets were sprayed in his direction. He avoided being hit, but Scalise did not. Scalise was reportedly in critical condition Wednesday afternoon.
Like other GOP congressmen interviewed on national news outlets Wednesday, Duncan blamed intensified political rhetoric, at least in part, for the attack.
“I think there should be some personal reflection on everybody’s part on what they say and how they say it,” he said. “It’s important – on my own part as well.
“I’d hope that (House Speaker) Paul Ryan and (Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi can think along those lines and say something about how we talk about those things and we talk about each other.”