Washington, D.C.

Suspect in shooting began day with routine predawn stop at YMCA

Rep. Scalise remains in critical condition
Flyers seeking information about James Hodgkinson are handed out following a news conference June 14, 2017.
Flyers seeking information about James Hodgkinson are handed out following a news conference June 14, 2017.

WASHINGTON — James T. Hodgkinson, the man who police say opened fire on a crowd of congressional Republicans on Wednesday, began his day at the nearby YMCA at 5:31 a.m. and appeared to go about his normal morning routine before unleashing the attack, the YMCA said Thursday.

An hour and a half later, just after 7:09 a.m., police in Alexandria, Virginia, responded to a call alerting them to gunfire outside the YMCA. Hodgkinson’s spray of bullets struck four people, police said, including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House majority whip, who had been taking part in a morning baseball practice with other congressional Republicans in an adjacent park.

Scalise was severely wounded, and underwent a second operation Thursday, MedStar Washington Medical Center said in a statement. He remained in critical condition, but the hospital said he had improved in the last 24 hours. He “will be in the hospital for some time,” the statement said.

Hodgkinson, 66, died in a firefight with police officers. Authorities said he was armed with a handgun and an SKS 7.62-mm semi-automatic assault rifle.

Both weapons were bought in March, officials said, and Hodgkinson held a valid firearm owner’s identification card issued by the Illinois State Police.

The SKS weapon that authorities said was used in the attack is a semi-automatic infantry rifle designed in the 1940s in the Soviet Union and reproduced in China and a handful of nations formerly aligned with Russia. It fires the same medium-powered ammunition as the first generation of Kalashnikov assault rifles, which replaced the SKS in Soviet military service.

The weapon is not as accurate as many modern infantry rifles and carbines, and it is not capable of automatic fire; its bullets move at a relatively slow velocity. But it has lingered as a ceremonial weapon in Russia, and models from Russia and China can be readily purchased in the United States, where the rifle is popular with collectors.

The YMCA in Alexandria, which was placed on lockdown by police for several hours Wednesday morning, provided new details Thursday that helped clarify the timeline of events leading up to the attack, and it offered insight into how Hodgkinson spent his final weeks in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.

The YMCA’s statement came as authorities on Thursday continued to piece together a picture of what had motivated Hodgkinson, a former home inspector from Illinois who was deeply engaged in liberal politics.

Law enforcement officials said they believed that Hodgkinson had traveled from his home in Belleville, Illinois, to Alexandria in late March.

On April 4, he joined the YMCA there. Its records show that, over the next two months, he more or less made it a home base. At the time, authorities said, he was living out of his van.

Hodgkinson paid his monthly dues in recent days, the YMCA said Thursday, giving him access to the building through July. But on Tuesday, he gave written notice that he was moving and wanted to cancel his membership.

The next morning, he showed up early as usual.

YMCA staff members observed him enter an area that includes locker rooms, a pool and exercise equipment. Later, he was seen sitting in a common area and using a laptop that those who interacted with him in Alexandria say he spent hours a day on.

YMCA workers said they did not see Hodgkinson leave the building. But around 7:10 a.m., they heard gunshots outside, and a staff member called police.

According to the YMCA’s statement, 45 members and seven employees took shelter in the building, which was hit by at least two bullets.

The FBI was also investigating whether Hodgkinson had any links to domestic terrorist groups or their ideology, even as law enforcement officials pressed their inquiries in Illinois, where Hodgkinson lived for decades.

Although a large sign near Hodgkinson’s home still advertised his home inspection business, JTH Inspections, state records suggest that he stopped working months ago.

He allowed his home inspector’s license to expire last year, and on Dec. 30, he completed paperwork to dissolve the business he founded in 1994 under another name. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation said it had never disciplined him.

But law enforcement officials in and around Belleville, which calls itself the “capital of Southern Illinois,” were familiar with Hodgkinson, who had been repeatedly arrested but never convicted of any serious crimes.

Sheriff Richard Watson of St. Clair County said deputies who had met Hodgkinson over the years described him as “very cordial.”

“You just don’t know what goes through people’s minds,” the sheriff said.

Hodgkinson’s wife, Sue, told reporters outside the family’s home in Belleville on Thursday that her husband had gone to Washington in March because “he wanted to work on taxes,” according to a Fox affiliate in St. Louis.

“I had no idea he was going to do this,” Sue Hodgkinson said. “I can’t wrap my head around it.”

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