Shooting Suspect’s Story: Tales of Gunfire and Online Rants
published Jun 14th 2017, 5:13 pm, by Alan Levin and Ari Natter
The man suspected of shooting a top GOP congressman and several others Wednesday expressed disdain for Republicans on social media and was questioned by police in March after a neighbor complained about gunshots coming from his rural Illinois property.
The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, was wounded in a shootout with police early Wednesday and later died of his injuries. The shooting injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the third-highest ranked U.S. House Republican, and three others at a congressional baseball practice at a field in Alexandria, Virginia, near the nation’s capital.
On social media, Hodgkinson, 66, presented himself as a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, decried the election of President Donald Trump and joined a Facebook group called “Terminate The Republican Party.” He had been arrested a number of times, including for a domestic violence incident and drunk driving, according to court records.
The FBI recovered a rifle and handgun at the scene and is now investigating Hodgkinson’s social media activity and searching his home in Illinois, said Timothy Slater, a special agent in charge of the bureau’s Washington Field Office. The suspect had been living out of a van in Alexandria since March, he said.
In recent months, there were multiple reports of gunfire on Hodgkinson’s property, according to neighbors and St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson.
Two neighbors, Carmen and Bill Schaumleffel, recalled hearing the sound of gunshots from the property, they said in an interview.
Bill “just walked out across the field and yelled at him about shooting because our grand kids were outside and the dogs, you know,” Carmen Schaumleffel said.
On March 24, a sheriff’s deputy was called to Hodgkinson’s home after receiving a complaint that he was firing a deer rifle, Sheriff Watson said in an interview. Hodgkinson, who had a valid gun license, was cooperative and agreed with the deputy’s suggestion to practice shooting at a local firing range, Watson said.
“What I remember of him, he was just a strange little character,” said Lyndon Evanko, an attorney who represented Hodgkinson in several cases in St. Clair County Circuit Court. “I got the feeling he was a bit of a misanthrope, that he didn’t really get along well with a lot of people, but there was nothing about him that would strike me as being overly nasty.”
Among the cases Evanko said he represented Hodgkinson in was a 2006 domestic battery case, in which Hodgkinson was alleged to have pointed a 12-gauge shotgun at a neighbor who had attempted to intervene in the dispute, Evanko said. The case was ultimately dismissed, he said.
According to the arrest report, a neighbor told police Hodgkinson had punched the neighbor’s girlfriend in the face. When he went to confront Hodgkinson, he was struck in the head with the butt of a shotgun. As the neighbor walked away from the porch where the confrontation occurred, Hodgkinson fired a shot, although police said it wasn’t clear where it had been aimed.
In spite of the arrests, Evanko said he was surprised by his former client’s apparent actions near Washington on Wednesday. “I certainly would not have pegged him for this,” Evanko said. “He didn’t strike me as that kind of person.”
Hodgkinson, who was known by his middle name Tom, described himself on social media as a home inspector and he periodically was licensed for inspections, according to public records. He listed himself as president of JTH Services Inc. in public records and on social media.
Hodgkinson’s Facebook page featured Sanders prominently, with pictures and quotes from the Vermont Senator. Among the other groups he was a member of was, “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Republicans.”
In a Facebook post, he wrote, “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.,” according to the Washington Post. He apparently volunteered for Sanders’s presidential campaign last year, the lawmaker said in a press release.
“Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms,” Sanders said.
Hodgkinson showed up about six weeks ago at the Alexandria YMCA across from the field where the shooting took place and was there nearly every morning since, drinking coffee and working on his laptop, said William Euille, who served as the city’s mayor until last year.
“He sat there like a loner, only really having a dialogue with me,” Euille said in an interview, adding Hodgkinson struck up a friendship with him after he heard others calling him “mayor.”
“He never shared his political preferences with me,” he said. “He had an oversized gym bag. It seemed like all his life’s possessions were in his gym bag.”
Hodgkinson’s local newspaper, the Belleville News-Democrat, posted a photo of him protesting outside a local post office in 2012, holding a sign saying “Tax the Rich.”
GOP Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina told reporters that he informed Alexandria police about a brief encounter he had in the parking lot with a man he believed to be the suspected shooter just before the shooting began Wednesday morning. Duncan said the man asked him whether the team was made up of Republicans or Democrats.
In a series of letters to the editor in 2012, Hodgkinson spoke out against Republican policies, arguing for higher taxes on the wealthy.
“There’s a new version of what GOP stands for. It’s not the Grand Old Party anymore. It’s the Greedy One Percenters,” he wrote in one.
“I have never said ‘life sucks,’ only the policies of the Republicans,” he said in another.