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Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2017 @ 10:23 AM
Republicans in Congress told harrowing stories of a brush with death on Wednesday, as they struggled to make sense of a morning gun attack on a group of GOP lawmakers practicing for a charity baseball game. The suspected gunman was killed as Capitol Police officers returned fire at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia.
"I was next up at bat, so I had a batting helmet on," said Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA), who said he clearly recognized the sound of a gun shot.
"We all started running out to the first base side," as Loudermilk said it was obvious what the gunman was after.
"I'm running, and I mean, dirt is flying up from the bullets hitting the ground," he added.
"He was targeting us," Loudermilk told reporters. "There was a big oak tree behind me, there's bark flying off the oak tree."
"It seemed like it went forever," Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) said of the gunfire, as he described diving into the dugout to get away.
Because of the presence of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the Republican Whip, two Capitol Police officers were already on site, sitting in a black SUV over by the first base dugout.
And as soon as the shooting started, they fired back.
"They saved all of us," Williams said. "All we had was bats."
"Many people likely would have died this morning if not for the bravery of the Capitol Hill police," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who was at the scene, but not injured.
"Our prayers right now are for Steve Scalise and his family," said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the manager of the GOP team. "The heroes are the police officers," Barton added, fighting back tears, as he described watching the officers defend those under fire.
"If he had wanted to, my back was to him, I could have been his first victim," said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), one of almost two dozen Republicans who were getting ready for Wednesday's Congressional baseball game.
"I went down on the ground," Fleischmann told reporters, as he recounted hearing gun shots from behind.
"And then I realized it wasn't stopping, and so I ran and jumped in the dugout," he added, still wearing his baseball uniform almost six hours after the incident.
GOP manager Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) was not only worried about his colleagues and team, but two of his sons were at practice as well, down the first base line in a batting cage.
"I looked out there at Brad and yelled at my oldest son, 'Get Jack and get down,'" Barton said later, detailing how his 10 year old tried to hide.
"He crawled under a car outside of the fence," Barton said of his son Jack, "with the bleachers in between him and the shooter."
Two other Republicans on the team - who left practice early - later told of how they evidently ran into the gunman, who asked a chilling question.
"I was playing third base, and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and I decided to try to get on the road a little early to beat the traffic," said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). "That was probably five, ten minutes before the shots were fired."
"I've had a couple of my colleagues say you're lucky you left when you did, because you would have been the first in the line of fire," DeSantis said.
The Florida Republican confirmed that a man had walked up to Duncan and DeSantis, asking if the players on the field were Republicans or Democrats.
"Jeff and I believe that the individual who committed the attack was the same individual who approached us," DeSantis said.
"I don't know why I decided to try to get on the road by ten after seven, instead of seven thirty," he added. "But I'm obviously fortunate that I did."
The two police officers were wounded, but their injuries were not described as life threatening.
Rep. Scalise was said to be in critical condition this afternoon.
Here was what it sounded and looked like in video posted by an eyewitness: