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Politics & Government

What We Know About The Virginia Shooting Suspect

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're following the story of this morning's shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where several Republican congressmen and their staff members were practicing for a charity game. A gunman with an automatic rifle opened fire there. Congressman Steve Scalise was shot in the hip. He's the House majority whip. He's now reported to be in critical condition after surgery. Two special agents with the Capitol Police were also wounded as well as a congressional staffer and a lobbyist.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The gunman died in an exchange of fire with Capitol Police and Alexandria police on the scene. He's been identified as James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill. He was 66 years old, a retired home inspector with a long record of political activism around liberal causes. NPR's Tom Gjelten has been looking into Hodgkinson's background and is in the studio with us now. Hi, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What more have you been able to gather about him?

GJELTEN: Actually quite a bit. He had a fairly significant public profile mostly because of his political views, a long record of writing letters to his local newspaper, a long record of contacting his local congressmen with his complaints. He was a supporter of Bernie Sanders in the last election campaign. Belleville there is a white, working-class community. He had, as you say, a home inspection business there. Local reporters spoke to someone who grew up with him, Dale Walsh, and he remembered Hodgkinson as a kind of a feisty guy.

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DALE WALSH: Through the years, he didn't back down. So I mean he was in a few fights and stuff like that but nothing that would demonstrate violence.

SHAPIRO: Do we know how he ended up in the D.C. area, Alexandria, Va., this morning?

GJELTEN: The FBI think he'd been here since March. He apparently drove out from Illinois and was living out of his car. A former mayor of Alexandria says he saw Hodgkinson every morning at the YMCA right next to the field where the shooting took place. He was, in the mayor's words, living out of his gym bag. We also spoke to a librarian in Alexandria who says Hodgkinson was a regular there, coming in to look at reading materials, much of them having to do with politics. We don't know why he came here. Although it's clear he was obsessed with Republican politicians.

SHAPIRO: Was there anything to indicate that he was violent?

GJELTEN: There was one incident in 2006 where he and his wife were both arrested and charged with assaulting a neighbor. It was a dispute over the custody of their foster daughter. He did have a weapon at that point. He didn't fire it. But the police report did indicate he had a weapon. He was a gun owner. And we know that he was actually target shooting in his yard recently. Just two days ago, he posted a very angry tweet about the president.

You know, one question, Ari, is his mental and physical condition. St. Louis Public Radio today spoke to the political director of the Sanders campaign in Missouri, Adam Kustra, who recalled that Hodgkinson was not in great physical shape.

ADAM KUSTRA: I have recollections of him being very sick and immobile.

GJELTEN: And we should keep in mind that he died in an exchange of gunfire with police, which would've suggested he was essentially suicidal when it came to the end.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten on what we know about the shooter in this morning's incident. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.