First came the ping of baseball bats, a familiar sound of the leafy neighborhood’s morning. Then the crack of gunfire, which is not.
It started with a single pop, which for a split second was not alarming to the Republican members of the US Congress who had gathered for a final practice before a charity baseball game with Democrats this week. As one lawmaker would later note, it could have been a car backfiring.
Then, after a pause, the gunshots came in quick succession and the horror unfolded in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, home to many federal workers, lawyers and lobbyists who commute across the river to Washington.
US Representative Steve Scalise, two US Capitol Police officers, a lobbyist and a legislative aide were wounded as lawmakers, some fighting back tears, sought to understand what had happened and why.
“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” US Representative Brad Wenstrup, a US Army reservist who served as a combat surgeon in Iraq and was on the field on Wednesday when the shooting began.
They had gathered on that muggy morning, trading suits and ties for sneakers and baseball caps, to practice for yesterday’s annual left-right matchup, a friendly Democratic-Republican rivalry for charity in a capital otherwise poisonous in its partisanship.
US Representative Mo Brooks had bicycled 14.5km to make the 6:30am start. More than 20 Republican members from the US House of Representatives and US Senate showed up.
The baseball park, home to the T.C. Williams High School Titans, sits in a lively part of Alexandria. On weekdays, locals head off to work and school.
People come and go at the nearby YMCA. Homeowners stroll the sidewalks, walking their dogs.
So it hardly seemed unusual when a man approached US Representative Jeff Duncan in the baseball field parking lot.
His question was pointed: “’Excuse me sir, who’s practicing today? Democrats or Republicans?’” Duncan said. “And I said: ‘It’s the Republican team.’ He said: ‘OK, thanks’ and turned around.”
Duncan then left, later saying: “It was the guy they’ve identified as the shooter.”
US Representative Steve Pearce was taking swings in the batting cage along the first base side when he noticed a bystander near the third base dugout. Within seconds, as Pearce left the batting cage and headed toward the dugout, the shooting started.
Chaos ensued. Lawmakers dove for cover. Gravel bounced as shots hit the ground.
Brooks hit the ground with a few others behind the batting cage, but quickly realized that did not provide much cover.
The gunman was not spraying bullets, but rather taking aim, so there was a “little bit of time between shots,” Brooks said.
He quickly ran with some others to the first base dugout and tried to hide, lying belly-down in the dirt.
Scalise, the third-ranking Republican in the House, was fielding balls on second base when a gunshot crumpled him, US Senator Jeff Flake said.
Scalise, 51, serving his fifth congressional term, dragged himself 10m to 15m into the outfield to try to get away, leaving a bloody trail, Flake said.
Marty LaVor, a retired Capitol Hill worker, was taking pictures by first base when he saw a man holding a rifle behind a chain-link fence by third base. LaVor saw Scalise go down, then a Capitol Police officer.
A 911 call went out at 7:09am. To those in the line of fire, it seemed an eternity before city police arrived, but in reality it took just three minutes.
Congress members helped apply a tourniquet to the injured leg of Zachary Barth, legislative correspondent for US Representative Roger Williams, as the shooting continued.
Scalise, too, was attended to by his colleagues on the field.
It was over in a matter of minutes. At least 70 shots could be heard in one video.
Members of Congress credited the Capitol Police officers with shooting the gunman, although authorities did not immediately confirm who shot him.
He died in a hospital.
Scalise underwent surgery for a wound to the hip and was in a critical condition.
Matt Mika, a lobbyist and a former congressional aide, was also in a critical condition, with multiple wounds.
Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner of the Capitol Police, as well as Barth, were expected to recover fully.
The attacker was identified as James Hodgkinson, a Belleville, Illinois, home inspector who is thought to have been in Alexandria since March, with no work, living in his white cargo van and frequenting the YMCA next to the field.
He had a history of arrests, including for resisting police and drunken driving, and of speaking out against Republicans.