YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – After Wednesday’s shooting on a GOP practice baseball field outside of the nation’s capital, local lawmakers are coming together, trying to figure out how to move forward and what needs to happen next.
Congressman Mike Kelly, who serves Mercer and Lawrence counties, said the day started off like a lot of days in D.C. — but not for long.
“You can feel it. There’s a cloud hanging over Washington right now.”
Kelly wasn’t at the baseball practice Wednesday but soon found out his colleagues were targeted.
“To see what happened today happen, it makes us all understand that we are all truly vulnerable. There’s 435 of us. I don’t know how you protect all of us, it’s very hard. Especially when you’re at home,” he said.
When the gunman opened fire, timing may have made all the difference for Congressman Bill Johnson.Watch: Local Congressman narrowly avoids shooting at Virginia baseball field
He was at the early morning practice, along with about two dozen other Republican members of Congress.
“I left probably five minutes before, before everything happened,” Johnson said.
Members of the Ohio Congressional delegation had been practicing for the yearly charity ballgame between Democrats and Republicans, scheduled to take place on Thursday.
But on Wednesday, a shooter — identified by a government official as James T. Hodgkinson — opened fire, wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, and several others.
The attacker fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.
About an hour after the shooting, Johnson confirmed to WKBN that he had been at the practice session. He left the field just after 7 a.m. because he had a meeting to attend on Capitol Hill.Listen: WKBN interview with Congressman Bill Johnson
He learned about the shooting when he got to his office and remembered something unusual he saw as he was driving away from the field.
“I was leaving the complex and I had pulled out into the street that parallels the parking lot there at the baseball complex. There was a white male, who was very lethargically, slowly getting in and out of his van parked on the street,” Johnson said.
He said he never spoke to the man or saw any weapons. Still, the coincidence caused him to report the incident to Capitol Police as part of their investigation.
At about the same time as the shooting, local Congressman Tim Ryan was practicing with his Democratic teammates at another field in northeastern Washington, D.C. When they heard about what happened across town, they took shelter until police could escort them to safety.
“It was shocking to sit there and think, because you’re on a baseball field. Every American knows what that means. You’re wide open and to think that someone’s shooting people playing baseball, you know, it’s just sitting ducks,” Ryan said.
He released a statement on the shooting, saying he was “sickened” by it:
I was sickened to hear news of the shooting this morning at the Republican practice for the Congressional Baseball game. My thoughts and prayers are with Congressman Steve Scalise and the Capitol Police Officers and congressional staffer who were injured by this morning’s senseless act of violence. I’m especially grateful to the U.S. Capitol Police and Alexandria Virginia Police Department who by all accounts acted as heroes and prevented this incident from turning even worse. Today’s incident was appalling to all who believe in our democratic values. I wish all those impacted a speedy recovery.”
Ryan added that his thoughts and prayers are with Steve Scalise, Capitol Police officers, and a Congressional staffer — all injured in the shooting.
“My hope is this will be a wake-up call to both political parties and all Americans to take down the heat, and the rhetoric, and the words we use, and the posts on social media,” Ryan said.
Democratic Rep. John Boccieri, of Poland, said he was “deeply saddened” to hear about the shooting. He recalled memories he has with Rep. Scalise:
I played in the charity game when I was in Congress and attended many baseball practices, so my heart goes out to everyone who was involved in the practice. Rep. Scalise and I came into Congress together and played in this game against one another. I pray for his health and speedy recovery.”
On Twitter, Sen. Rob Portman called the Capitol Police “true heroes” and said he and his wife were praying for those affected.
Johnson said the shooting made him stop and think of what could have happened if he’d been there just a few minutes longer.
“Maybe it’s the military guy in me, I’m having mixed emotions. One side of me is very grateful that I avoided the shooting and that I was not present. The other side of me — the military side — says, you know, I’ve got that guilty feeling that I should have been there to help my guys out.”
As for moving past Wednesday’s shooting, Johnson said lawmakers need to continue standing for their principals.
“Steve Scalise — who I have tremendous respect for — would be one of the first to tell you, we don’t cower in the corner from these kinds of incidences. We come out and we make the nation better for it.”
The charity game will still be played on Thursday, with a hope that tomrorow may not bring politics as usual from both sides of the aisle but may be a chance to move the country forward in a positive way.