FBI: Gunman who shot congressman had no target in mind
WASHINGTON (AP) — Adrift and nearly out of money after three months of living out of his van in the Washington area, the gunman who shot a top House Republican and four other people on a Virginia baseball field didn’t have any concrete plans to inflict violence on the Republicans he loathed, FBI officials said Wednesday.
James T. Hodgkinson, 66, was shot and killed by police after he opened fire on Congressional Republicans practicing for their annual charity baseball game against Democrats last week. Rep. Steve Scalise of Lousiana, the House majority whip, was struck in the hip and gravely wounded. Scalise remains hospitalized, and his condition was upgraded to fair on Wednesday. All five people who were shot, including two U.S. Capitol police officers, survived their injuries.
At a news conference on Wednesday, FBI officials gave an overview of the evidence they’ve gathered on Hodgkinson. They said he acted alone and had no connections to terror groups. But they said they had not yet clarified who, if anyone, he planned to target, or why, beyond his animus toward President Donald Trump and the Republicans he felt were ruining the country. It wasn’t even clear whether he had prior plans to attack the baseball practice or whether he just happened upon it the morning of June 14, said Tim Slater, who leads the criminal division of the FBI’s Washington field office.
“At this point in the investigation, it appears more spontaneous,” Slater said.
Hodgkinson had a piece of paper with the names of six members of Congress written on it, Slater said, but the note lacked any further context and there was no evidence from his computer, phone or other belongings that indicated he planned to target those officials. Slater declined to name the officials whose names were on the note or say whether they were Republicans or Democrats or were at the baseball practice.
Scalise, 51, “continues to make good progress,” according to a statement issued Wednesday by MedStar Washington Hospital Center, “and is beginning an extended period of healing and rehabilitation.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said that Scalise “is on the road to recovery.”
Hogkinson was an unemployed home inspector from Belleville, Illinois, who frequently railed against Republicans in letters to the editor and angry social media posts. In November, shortly after Trump was elected, he purchased the two guns that he used in the shooting, a rifle and a 9mm handgun. Neighbors called police as Hodgkinson conducted target practice on his property, but he did not violate any laws, the FBI said.
In March, Hodgkinson left Illinois and drove to Alexandria, Virginia, where he lived in his van in a YMCA parking lot. He rented out a storage unit where he kept more than 200 rounds of ammunition, among other belongings. He had two laptop computers, a cellphone and a digital camera. The FBI has not finished scouring those devices for evidence, Slater said.
In April, Hogkinson made the tourist rounds in Washington, visiting monuments, museums, the U.S. Capitol and the Dirksen Senate Office Building and taking pictures, the FBI said. He also took pictures of the baseball field where he would later fire more than 60 shots.
“The FBI does not believe that these photographs represented surveillance of intended targets,” the FBI said in a statement.
Hodgkinson also visited the office of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose campaign he had worked on as a volunteer, and was in email contact with the two Democratic senators from his home state.
The FBI statement and Slater’s comments painted a picture of a down-on-his-luck man with few future prospects. Hodgkinson was taking prescription drugs, although Slater did not say what the drugs were for or whether he was abusing them.
“He was running out of money. He was not employed at the time of the event, and he was looking for some local employment. He was married for 30 years, and it appears that that marriage was not going so well,” Slater said. “It was just a pattern of life where you could tell things were not going well.”
Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.