Neighbors Describe The Man Who Opened Fire At A Baseball Practice

Jun 15, 2017
Originally published on June 22, 2017 1:47 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The investigation continues into the shooting that wounded a congressman and three others in Alexandria, Va. Representative Steve Scalise remains in critical condition. The shooter was 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson. Investigators say he had been living in his car in Northern Virginia and hanging out at the YMCA. That's where he met the former mayor of Alexandria, Bill Euille, who told The Washington Post he had spoken with Hodgkinson several times over the past month.

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BILL EUILLE: He was very personable and reaching out to me just to dialogue. I concluded he was obviously, one, somebody new to this area. Two, he seemed to be a loner. Three, he wanted to get as much information about how, you know, I could help.

MARTIN: Before Hodgkinson traveled to Virginia, he lived in a small town near St. Louis called Belleville, Ill. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang is in Belleville to find out how people there are reacting. He joins us now.

Hansi, have you been able to track down anyone who knew Hodgkinson?

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Well, we've heard from one of his friends growing up. His name is Dale Walsh. And he said James T. Hodgkinson actually went by Thomas or Tommy. And Walsh and Hodgkinson grew up in the same neighborhood. And Walsh said he was surprised that Hodgkinson was the shooter because he knew Hodgkinson as a happy-go-lucky guy, someone who was a jokester at parties. We have some tape from St. Louis Public Radio. Here's what Dale Walsh said.

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DALE WALSH: I just want to let people know that he wasn't evil, that he was, I guess, tired of some of the politics that are going on. Just like in this state, we got politicians collecting a paycheck and doing absolutely nothing for it.

MARTIN: Hodgkinson was known to have made a lot of strong and public statements against President Trump and the Republican Party, for that matter. But what have you been able to find out about his history? Was there any political violence in his past?

WANG: Well, we do know he has a criminal record that shows that there are arrests for suspicion of battery and motor vehicle damage, for example. But those charges were dropped. And St. Louis Public Radio also spoke to one of his neighbors Bill Schaumleffel, who said that he didn't interact very much with his neighbors. But he did have a run-in back in March. Schaumleffel heard gunshots going off outside of his home while his grandchild were playing outside, and he ultimately found Hodgkinson outside. Here's what Schaumleffel said.

BILL SCHAUMLEFFEL: After a couple more shots, why, he steps out from behind the pole barn over there. And then he started shooting across the field and shooting in the corner of the timber right down there, you know. And there's a house down here. And there's our house here. And there's - beyond, there's houses. And it was a high-powered rifle. It was loud.

WANG: Later, the deputies from the local sheriff's department arrived. No charges. There were no charges because Hodgkinson was shooting on his own property, and he had a valid firearms owner identification card.

MARTIN: And just briefly, what can you tell us about the state of the investigation right now? What do we know?

WANG: Well, we know the FBI's been searching his house and that they also have found a vehicle near the scene of the shooting in Alexandria, Va. And they say he was living out of it since March. And FBI is now asking for tips from anyone who may know more things about his motive.

MARTIN: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reporting from Belleville, Ill. Thanks so much.

WANG: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.