GOP Baseball Practice Shooting: FBI Takes Over Investigation

Jun 14, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The FBI has taken over the investigation of a shooting in Alexandria, Va., where a man opened fire at a baseball field this morning. Republican lawmakers and staffers were holding a practice there. And Representative Steve Scalise, the third-ranking member of the Republican House leadership, was shot in the hip. He is in the hospital and reported to be in stable condition, according to his office.

Officials say five people were transported to the hospital, not clear if one of those was the shooter. We're awaiting a statement from President Trump at the White House during this hour. And we expect to be able to bring that to you live. In Alexandria, Police Chief Michael Brown gave a press conference a few moments ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MICHAEL BROWN: Nine minutes after 7 o'clock, we received a call, a 911 call of an active shooter. Our units responded and were on scene within three minutes. The officers were - received fire from a suspect, and they returned fire. Because this case involves the assault on a federal officer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will be taking over the investigation.

MARTIN: So the FBI now taking over, we heard there from Police Chief Michael Brown in Alexandria. NPR's Geoff Bennett is there on the scene, where the press conference just wrapped up.

Geoff, what more can you tell us that came out of that press conference?

GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Well, we know, Rachel, that this is no longer an active scene, here. It appears to be an isolated incident, from what we were told. The FBI, as you mentioned, has taken over the investigation. The special agent who spoke with us said, it's really still too early to tell if this was a targeted attack, if it was an assassination. We also understand that - from the Capitol Police chief - that the two Capitol Police officers who were shot are being treated for their injuries.

He says they are in good condition. And then Steve Scalise, who you mentioned, is in surgery. We understand he's in good spirits. He spoke with his wife shortly before that surgery. And then the other person who was wounded was a staffer for Texas Congressman Roger Williams, a guy named Zachary Barth.

He posted on Facebook that he was shot. But he says he's OK. So what we're waiting for at this point is learning the identity of the shooter and, of course, his motivation. Congressman Mo Brooks said on CNN - he described the shooter as being a middle-aged white male. We don't have that officially from the law enforcement officials who spoke with us today.

MARTIN: You mentioned questions about whether or not this was a targeted attack. This is a field that this group of Republicans uses for baseball practice on a regular basis. So there were concerns that it would have been easy, if it was a targeted attack, to know when and where.

BENNETT: That's right. And they've been practicing almost every weekday morning. I've seen them on my way into work. They practice usually from about 6 in the morning to about 8 o'clock, until they have to head to the Hill. Where we are in Del Ray, Va., is a bedroom community for Capitol Hill. And speaking with some of people who live around here, they've said that they've seen bullet holes in the nearby YMCA and the coffee shop across the street. So this has really shaken up this neighborhood here.

But back to the note about the baseball game, you know, the - congressional baseball has a great tradition. It's really a great opportunity for the members to meet each other, really doing what their constituents say they want when members of Congress to do, you know, work together, work across the aisle. The Democrats, who were practicing in Washington, stopped to pray for their Republican colleagues when they learned about what happened. This practice was leading up to a game that was scheduled for tomorrow night at Nats Field. We don't know if that game is going to carry on as planned. But that's what they were here doing this morning when this shooting took place.

MARTIN: Rand Paul - Congressman Rand Paul tweeted out this morning that he believed that unless the Capitol Police had been there, the shooting could have been even more tragic. Steve Scalise, the No. 3 among the House leadership, travels with a security detail that was there today. And they were the ones who responded to this attack.

BENNETT: That's right. So if Scalise hadn't been here, you can imagine, as Senator Paul says, this would've been a far more tragic situation here. In speaking with some of the neighbors, they confirmed what the Alexandria Police Department chief said, that they responded within three to five minutes. But, you know, three to five minutes in a situation like this is a lifetime.

MARTIN: NPR's Geoff Bennett on the scene there in Alexandria, Va., the scene of a shooting this morning where at least 20 Congress members were practicing for a baseball game.

Thanks so much, Geoff.

BENNETT: You're welcome.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, the lawmakers under fire this morning included Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. And like others, he described hearing a shot then many, many shots. Steve Scalise, the congressman, went down near his position at second base. Flake and others then dove for shelter in the first base dugout as Scalise's security detail was firing back.

JEFF FLAKE: We dove for the dugout, those of us who were on the field still. And Steve Scalise went down and dragged himself off of the infield into the outfield, about 10 or 15 yards, and was laying motionless out there. But there was gunfire going overhead so I couldn't get out there. And another staff member with a leg wound, who was shot in the field, made it to the dugout and came in. And we put - got a belt and put pressure on his wound.

INSKEEP: Put pressure on his wound, that's the staffer. And later, Senator Flake, after the gunman went down, ran out onto the field to Steve Scalise. And it is said by Flake and others that he helped to put pressure on that wound as well. A detail about Senator Flake, he is known as a survivalist - if that's the informal term - certainly, somebody who's familiar with the outdoors and somebody you might want around if you needed to deal with a wound in an emergency.

One of the other lawmakers who was present was Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama. And he watched as Capitol Police shot the attacker. Let's listen to some of that interview.

MO BROOKS: The shooter, as (unintelligible), starts working his way past the third-base dugout, behind home plate, where if I had stayed behind home plate, that would be it. There'd have been two or three of us in wide-open territory, short range, nowhere to go, no chance. Apparently, as he's going around home plate, though, the Capitol Police officers, although wounded, they're able to take him down. We hear shouts of shooter down, shooter down. But at the time, we don't know if there's a second shooter someplace or not.

INSKEEP: In the end, it was determined that there is not a second shooter. And Alexandria, Va., police, at least, describe this as an isolated incident. We should stick a pin in that and just make a note that as with all other facts, subject to change. But it appears that the one shooter was wounded and taken away by police. It appears, at the moment, that the incident was over and that a number of people have been wounded but no one killed.

Right now, the baseball diamond in Alexandria, Va., is secured, surrounded by yellow police tape as the investigation continues. But if there was an isolated incident in Alexandria, the effects are not going to be isolated across Washington, across the country, perhaps around the world. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here.

And Tamara, how is this affecting the rest of the day in Washington?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Everything is on hold, basically. The president was supposed to have an event this afternoon talking about workforce development. That's not happening. Congressional business is also not happening as planned. The hearings will resume tomorrow, is what we're being told. The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, is expected to speak on the House floor at noon. Members of Congress will be, also, getting a briefing from the Capitol Police. And President Trump is now set to give a statement at around 11:30 Eastern time.

INSKEEP: Can you give me an idea - if you're a member of Congress, some of them have security details. Some of them don't. As we were just hearing, Steve Scalise, one of the senior House Republicans, had a security detail. How conscious do they have to be of the possibility of becoming a target?

KEITH: Most of them do not have a security detail. I mean, obviously, there are lots of Capitol Police all around the Capitol. And you go through metal detectors when you go in. And it's a very secure environment. But out in the world, most members of Congress - meeting with the public, practicing baseball - they don't have people with guns around them. They are out just meeting with the public.

And obviously, this has been front of mind for many members of Congress ever since Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona, was shot at a constituent event outside of a grocery store several years ago. But, you know, as Jeff Flake said in your interview, you know, you don't think about it every day. You don't think about it when you're out on the ball field, you know, in your shorts playing - practicing - doing batting practice.

INSKEEP: You're telling us something about democracy here, Tamara Keith. I'm thinking about the fact that the Capitol itself is essentially a public building. And not so many years ago, before 9/11, say, it was possible for just about anybody to walk in and look around. They've secured it somewhat more now and built a new visitor center now. And there are new security procedures.

But it's still, essentially, a public building. And the office buildings in which the senators and representatives go to work each day, surrounding the Capitol, anybody can walk in. And...

KEITH: Yes. They go through metal detectors.

INSKEEP: Yes.

KEITH: You go through metal detectors. There is security. But yes, anyone can go in because members of Congress are representatives of the people of the United States and their constituents and lobbyists and various other and the press...

INSKEEP: The person at the metal detector is the boss.

KEITH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And they need to be out in public, as these lawmakers were practicing day after day at this baseball diamond.

KEITH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Remarkable developments this morning. And we'll continue to bring you more information as we learn it. Just to review what we know so far, Police in Alexandria, Va., say they received the call around 7:09 a.m., a shooting at this baseball diamond. So it would have been shortly before then. There was a period of three to five minutes before more officers were on the scene. In that period, a gunman, according to witnesses, may have fired well over 50 shots.

Capitol Police, who were guarding Congressman Steve Scalise, returned fire, all of this happening on a baseball diamond where something more than 20 senators and representatives were holding a baseball practice as they regularly do. Several were wounded, Steve Scalise, a staff member, two Capitol Hill police officers. The shooter also believed to be wounded and is now in police custody. A presidential statement coming soon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.