Williams' staffer shot at Congressional baseball practice; Williams injured ankle in chaos of shooting

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

Burnet Bulletin

Hobbling from an injured ankle and on crutches, Congressman Roger Williams, R-Austin, praised Capitol Hill and Alexandria, Virginia, police who took out a lone gunman who fired off more than 60 rounds at Republican members of Congress practicing for tomorrow night's annual Congressional Baseball Game.

Speaking to reporters at Capitol Hill at press conference carried live on his Twitter feed, Williams said the quick actions of police saved not only his life and the life of one of his staffers, legislative correspondent Zachary Barth, who was injured in the shooting, but also the lives of all others present, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was critically injured but expected to recover.

“This could have easily been 25 deaths or more today,” said Williams, who has represented Burnet County in Congress since 2013. “The thin blue line held today and America should be thankful that this is still the type of country that produces these types of heroes. I ask everyone to join me in praying for the victims and for their full recoveries before you go to bed tonight.

“Without our Capitol police, who literally took a step forward when they didn't have to, they saved all of us. We had no arms, all we had were bats. We were sitting ducks. I think he was not able to get on the field because the gate was locked on the other side. It could have been a bad situation if he could have gotten onto the field.”

Republican congressmen and their staff were practicing as they do every morning at 6:30 a.m. EDT at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia, for the Congressional Baseball Game when, at about 7 a.m. EDT, a man later identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Bellevue, Illinois, opened fire on the assembled representatives.

Scalise was shot, along with Williams' aide Barth and a former congressional aide turned lobbyist, Matt Mika. Capitol Hill police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, who were assigned to a detail protecting Scalise due to his place in Congressional leadership, returned fire and both were injured as well before Alexandria police arrived and provided aid. Hodgkinson was shot and killed.

“They saved everybody's life,” Williams said of Griner and Bailey. “They literally did that. I represent Fort Hood, where they teach our military to step forward not back, and they did just that. There will be those who will talk about what's wrong with America, but in this case, with Officers Griner and Bailey, we saw what is right with America. We saw two people risk their lives to save others. We saw courage in the face of death. We saw examples of why all Americans should be grateful every day for law enforcement officers around this country.”

Williams, who has coached the Republican team since 2013, said he was on the third base side, hitting ground balls to Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Mississippi, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, and “little did I know the perpetrator was probably 20 yards from me.

“I went around the first base side to hit Congressman Salise ground balls. I did that and when I hit it to him, the shots went off,” Williams said. “I heard the first shot and I thought maybe a car had backfired, but then I heard the second, third and fourth and everyone yelled, 'He's got a gun. Run for cover.'”

Williams said he dove into the concrete floor of the first-base dugout, which he described as being “like diving into a swimming pool without water.” As a result, Williams injured his right ankle, knee and foot, for which he was later treated at an Alexandria hospital.

Williams said Barth was shot while catching fly balls in the outfield.

“When I got into the dugout, it wasn't 10 seconds and Zach had come running in from the outfield and we landed in each others arms. I held him and he held me,” Williams said. “(Rep.) Jeff Flake took his belt off and made a tourniquet around Zach's leg to stop the bleeding.

“Zach is probably 23 or 24, and all the time he was bleeding and we were under fire, he was texting and letting people know we were under fire and we needed help. He got medical help and he is on the road to recovery.”

The Congressional Baseball Game, which pits Senate and House party members against each other in friendly competition, is a national tradition since 1909 and the most recent game was scheduled for Thursday, June 15, at Nationals Park.

Williams said the feeling among his Congressional comrades is the game needs to go on as planned.

“We plan to have a prayer service and then play some baseball,” he said. “Some of us will be on the injured reserve. I will be there on crutches, but we need to pay. This is a game that has gone on for over 100 years and it is for charity. All of us agree we need to play baseball.

“I think these people who want to destroy our lives, they win if we give in. America doesn't give out and it doesn't give in. This is America, the greatest country in the world. If you punch us, we are going to punch back. We are going to play baseball tomorrow.”

Williams said the treatment he received at the hospital will allow him to coach the game but then “I'll be going back to Texas after the game tomorrow night to let my doctor see what he needs to do about my ankle, leg and feet. They have got me going to where I will be okay where I can move around at the game and then I will go home tomorrow night and get it fixed.”

Asked about the gunman, Williams said he believes Hodgkinson had “an issue” that arose from a hypersensitive political climate in Washington, D.C., and in the nation this year.

“I don't think it was a Republican or Democratic issue, but I think he had an issue,” Williams said. “I do think our political rhetoric could be turned down a tone in this country. That is something that we all need to work on.”

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