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GOP Baseball Practice Shooting: Scalise, Staff Injured

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're following developments this morning into a shooting in northern Virginia that has left several people injured. A man described by eyewitnesses as white and middle-aged opened fire on a baseball practice where Republican members of Congress and their staffers were getting ready for a charity baseball game. Capitol Police were on the scene and returned fire.

The suspect was arrested and is now in custody. The number three in the House of Representatives, Steve Scalise, was shot in the hip and is now in stable condition. We're told five others were shot in this attack.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go now to one of the lawmakers who was present at that baseball game this morning. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is on the line from Alexandria, Va. Senator, I'm glad you're OK. I'm sorry to hear this news.

JEFF FLAKE: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Can you just tell us the story from the beginning? What were you doing and with whom this morning?

FLAKE: Well, Republican members, there are about 25 of us out here, and we're doing batting practice - and several of us standing near the home plate and several others fielding balls. Steve Scalise was playing second base, his position. And all of a sudden, we heard a loud what sounded like a gunshot very loud and very close but weren't certain until the second one a few seconds later - and then just a full rally.

And it was clear that there was a gunman. I just remember seeing...

INSKEEP: When you say a full rally, Senator, people have said there might have been more than 50 shots. Is that your impression as well?

FLAKE: Oh, yeah. That would be, I think, an understatement. He initially - somebody saw him lift a rifle. I didn't see the gun. And I'm sorry I'm being - one - OK.

INSKEEP: That's all right, Senator. I know you're probably being jostled there.

FLAKE: Walk outside the perimeter.

INSKEEP: Understand.

FLAKE: Anyway, we dove for the dugout, those of us who were on the field still. And Steve Scalise went down and dragged himself off of the infield into the outfield about 10 or 15 yards and was laying motionless out there. But there was gunfire going overhead, so I couldn't get out there. Another staff member with a leg wound who was shot in the field made it to the dugout and came in.

And we put - got a belt, put pressure on his wound. I got a look at the gunman behind the backstop. And he had a line of sight into our dugout. I feared he was going to start firing into the dugout. So we finally got - somebody said that the gunman was down. And that's when I ran out to Steve and applied pressure on the wound.

INSKEEP: You applied pressure on the wound because he was bleeding profusely, I would assume.

FLAKE: Yes, quite a bit. And we were out there for about 15 minutes, myself and another congressman who came out.

INSKEEP: When you say the gunman was down, that's because there were Capitol Police protecting you and they...

FLAKE: Yes, there were. And they were firing from behind our dugout. And I didn't know initially if that was friendly fire or not. We couldn't tell if there was another gunman. And then I saw one of the Capitol policemen and he was firing just using our dugout for cover. So there were bullets going all around. So and then another - I believe his name was Matt (ph) - shot in the chest - the one who helps out with our game.

Six people shot total, including the gunman, I believe.

INSKEEP: Senator, was this batting practice in a regular place and time? Could someone have known and predicted that you lawmakers would be there?

FLAKE: Yes. It's well-known we've been practicing here for years. And so we have - because Steve Scalise is a member of leadership, he has a detail. So they were here. But if he hadn't been at practice today, there would not have been any detail at all. We typically don't have protection around us so...

INSKEEP: You said a total of six people were shot. One of them is Scalise, the number three in the House of Representatives.

FLAKE: He looked to be OK. He was coherent when I got to him and remained awake throughout but obviously in horrible pain. I got his phone afterwards and called his wife. I didn't want her to wake up to this news without knowing that he was OK.

INSKEEP: Have you learned anything more about the gunman, Senator?

FLAKE: No, no. I'm still here at the scene. All of our material and whatnot is still in the dugout and will be probably for a while. But we don't know any more.

INSKEEP: You said you had, at one point, a line of sight on the gunman. Are you able to describe the weapon or weapons?

FLAKE: You know, I couldn't see that. I didn't - I think he had dropped the rifle and had likely a handgun by that time, but I'm not sure. I just saw him and then told everybody else in the dugout to get down again because he could - he had a line of sight to us...

INSKEEP: Senator...

FLAKE: Go ahead.

INSKEEP: My colleague Rachel Martin is here.

MARTIN: Senator Flake, it's Rachel Martin. You said you were able to get Congressman Scalise's phone and call his wife. Have you talked with your family yet, and what was that conversation like?

FLAKE: Yes, yes. After he was - Steve was taken away, I went and got my phone and called my wife, who happens to be here this week, just so she didn't wake up to it either.

MARTIN: And how are you doing?

FLAKE: I'm doing OK. I'm not hit, just a little blood around.

INSKEEP: To what extent are you as a senator mindful? Have you been mindful of the possibility of something like this because there have been lawmakers targeted before?

FLAKE: Well, that's, you know, prior to the Gabby Giffords shooting - and by the way, I've already heard from Mark Kelly this morning.

INSKEEP: Oh, Gabrielle Giffords' husband.

FLAKE: Yes, yes. And I traveled down to Tucson just after she was shot. And so that was an obviously horrible scene as well. So prior to that, I really didn't think of it much - have thought more of it since. But it just didn't - I wasn't thinking of it today. It's certainly not something that's on your every thought.

INSKEEP: Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, really appreciate your giving this information. And we're glad you're OK.

FLAKE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Thanks.

MARTIN: Thank you, Senator. We're going to turn now to someone else who witnessed the shooting. His name is Ben Childers. He lives very near where the attack happened. Ben, can you hear me?

BEN CHILDERS: I can hear you.

MARTIN: So, Ben, it's my understanding you ended up opening your home to a handful of people who were fleeing the scene. What can you tell us?

CHILDERS: I was on my balcony when the shooting started. And we saw - I was able to see that the, you know, the people that were in the baseball diamond were running off the baseball diamond. It ended up being that three of the - three men were headed toward our apartment building. So I kind of ran downstairs and was able to, like, signal them, like, to come into our apartment so that way they were able to - excuse me - so they were able to take shelter (unintelligible).

And my wife woke up from the gunfire. And so she was up. And so we were able to, you know, kind of get them some water and give them our telephone so that way they could call their, you know, their family and call their staff and let them know that they were OK. That's when they told us that, you know, Steve Scalise had been shot.

MARTIN: So you had a vantage point. You were out on your balcony. What provoked you to go out there? Did you - you heard the shots first and then what did you actually see?

CHILDERS: So I actually - I was sitting on my balcony just reading the news this morning and just kind of waking up. And so what I - I heard the first gunshot, which I did not think was a gunshot at first. But then it was followed pretty quickly by three or four more after that. So when I, you know, stood up, I was able to look over at the baseball field and see all those people, you know, leaving the baseball field.

So that's what I was able to see. So I wasn't able to see, you know, the shooter or anything like that. I just saw the men running this way. And so we tried to get them inside because it's some place safe.

MARTIN: Well, we appreciate your time this morning - Ben Childers, an eyewitness who opened his apartment to people fleeing the scene. Thanks so much.

CHILDERS: No problem.

MARTIN: And we're joined in the studio by NPR's Tamara Keith, who's been monitoring this story. We've heard now from the president on this. Tamara.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: That's correct. The president put out a statement on Twitter saying (reading) Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and a patriot was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him. What we don't know is whether the president has spoken with Scalise and whether what he's saying about Scalise's potential recovery is based on things that he knows or just based on hope and prayer.

MARTIN: And we're still trying to put together a profile of who the shooter was. We still don't know.

INSKEEP: Just to review a few things that we do know, lawmakers were at an early morning batting practice. We just heard Senator Flake say it was at a place that they often, for many years, had been. So you could plausibly know that lawmakers gather there. The shooting took place. There were Capitol Police because there was a security detail specifically for Representative Scalise.

We have reports that at least five people were wounded. Senator Flake, who was on the scene, believes it is six. That's the kind of detail that may change as we learn a little bit more. And we'll continue reporting on this, giving you more facts as we learn them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.