Rep. Rodney Davis of downstate Illinois was just yards from the gunman who opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia on Wednesday morning, an attack he blames on the “hateful” tone of politics in the country.
“This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist act,” Davis told CNN as he stood in the Capitol, still wearing his baseball uniform and his elbow bloodied from when he dove from the gunfire.
“It’s my breaking point, we have to stop this,” said Davis, a Republican from Taylorville.
Davis and dozens of GOP congressmen were at a park in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, practicing for a charity baseball game with Democrats scheduled for tonight.
No other Illinois congressmen were there. Reps. John Shimkus and Darin LaHood are on the GOP team’s roster but were not at the practice, their offices said.
Davis, a catcher on the GOP team, was at bat when a gunman near the dugout on the third base line opened fire, wounding Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority whip in the House, a congressional staffer and two law enforcement officers who were providing security at the field, officials said.
The gunman was wounded when police returned fire, and he later died. He has been identified as a 66-year-old man from Belleville, about 80 miles south from where Davis lives.
As the gunman started shooting, “we heard a loud bang like some big piece of metal dropping, then I heard someone yelling, run,” Davis told CNN.
Davis said he dove into the other dugout along with other players. “By the time I got there from home plate, I was on top of a couple people – didn’t think that was the best place to be … an open dugout, so I tried to get out of there.
“When there seemed to be a break in activity, I and others, we dispersed up into the street,” taking cover behind cars, Davis said.
He said someone called out that the gunman was coming up the street. “A good Samaritan let us into his apartment so we could call 911,” Davis said. “I also called my family.”
The gunman was arrested after a security detail for Scalise returned fired. Davis credited the officers with preventing more carnage. “If they weren’t there, this would have been a massacre.”
In the CNN interview, Davis said he went back to his office after investigators released him from the crime scene, then decided to go to the Capitol and talk to reporters about his experience. “I’m angry. I want to talk to people ... It’s important to get this message out.”
Acknowledging he didn’t know what motivated the gunman, Davis spoke at length about “this hatefulness” in politics.
“I believe there is such a hatefulness in what we see in American politics and policy discussions right now … on social media and the 24-hour news cycle. This has got to stop.
“We can disagree on how to govern – that’s what makes this country great,” he said. “I think Republicans and Democrats need to use this day today to stand together and say, ‘Stop, let’s work together, let’s get things done. We can have our differences, but let’s not let it lead to such hate.’”
Davis said he has no doubt the congressmen were targeted: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence no bullets were fired outside of that baseball field.”
LOCAL LAWMAKERS REACT
U.S. Rep Adman Kinzinger, R-Channahon, wasn't playing in the Congressional Men’s Baseball game, and so was not at the field at the time of the shooting.
He issued a statement that said:
“As we continue to learn more about what happened this morning, we know that it could have been much worse if it wasn’t for the swift action by our U.S. Capitol Police and the first responders of Alexandria. My thoughts and prayers are with my friend Steve Scalise, our Capitol Police special agents, our staff and aides, and all of their families. I extend my best wishes to each of them for a safe and speedy recovery. What happened today was a targeted act of senseless violence from a disturbed individual. This hate will not divide us; it will unite us. Today and every day, I am grateful to our Capitol Police and our strong Congressional community.”
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, released the following statement:
“My thoughts and prayers are with Majority Whip Steve Scalise, my colleagues, law enforcement, staff and those injured after the horrifying shooting at the Congressional Men’s Baseball practice this morning.
"I’m incredibly grateful to the U.S. Capitol Police and security officials who bravely and heroically protected Members of Congress and staff from further violence and bloodshed.
"The Congressional Men’s Baseball Game – and the Congressional Women’s Softball Game – are two of the few truly bipartisan events left on Capitol Hill, and we will not be deterred by this senseless act of violence.”
She, too, sent a tweet:
"Horrified by this morning's Congressional baseball shooting. Thank you to our brave Capitol Police. Prayers for @SteveScalise & the wounded"
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement Wednesday morning that "Our hearts go out to the victims of a tragic shooting this morning. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the United States Capitol Police who put their lives on the line this morning and each and every day to keep members, staff, and visitors safe.