The gunman who attacked members of Congress on Wednesday morning, wounding a GOP leader, had a long history of domestic violence that included the use of a gun and hated Republicans.
James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on a congressional baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C., a senior law-enforcement official told The Daily Beast. Hodgkinson was killed by police.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers, and congressional staffers were wounded. They are all expected to survive, according to police.
Hodgkinson may have practiced before the attack, a neighbor told The Daily Beast.
On March 24, neighbor William Schaumleffel called the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office to complain that Hodgkinson had fired approximately 15 shots outside. A responding officer found Hodgkinson shooting into nearby trees and advised him to stop, according to a sheriff’s report, which added that Hodgkinson had a valid firearm license.
“I thought, my God, what is that guy shooting?” Schaumleffel recalled.
He told The Daily Beast that he was out in his backyard with his grandchildren when the shooting started. He heard one shot, then another, and then three in rapid succession.
Hodgkinson held the gun to his shoulder and fired across Schaumleffel’s field, he said. Schaumleffel said he yelled to him to say that there were houses in that direction and that he should stop, but wasn’t sure if he heard him.
The shooting started again, in what Schaumleffel now calls “target practice.”
“I told my wife, ‘hey, I’m gonna call the sheriff. He’s liable to turn the gun on us,’” Schaumleffel said.
Schaumleffel said he had never met Hodgkinson, and said that almost everyone in the neighborhood owned a gun. But no one starts shooting randomly, into the distance, like Hodgkinson did.
“He was being very reckless that day,” Schaumleffel said.
Shortly after the incident, Hodgkinson reportedly left Illinois and was living in Virginia.
A brutal foster father
Hodgkinson had a history of violence that did not rise to the level to prohibit him from legally owning a firearm.
He was the foster father of at least two girls. The first, Wanda Ashley Stock, 17, committed suicide in 1996 by pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself on fire after a few months of living with the Hodgkinsons, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The Hodgkinsons gave an interview to the paper after her suicide, calling her a “very practical, level-headed girl.”
Privacy laws do not allow the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to release foster records.
In 2002, Hodgkinson became the foster father of another girl whom he allegedly abused, according to police records.
In 2006, he was arrested for domestic battery and discharge of a firearm after he stormed into a neighbor’s home where his teenage foster daughter was visiting with a friend. In a skirmish, he punched his foster daughter’s then 19-year-old friend Aimee Moreland “in the face with a closed fist,” according to a police report reviewed by The Daily Beast. When Moreland’s boyfriend walked outside of the residence where Moreland and Hodgkinson’s foster daughter were, he allegedly aimed a shotgun at the boyfriend and later fired one round. The Hodgkinsons later lost custody of that foster daughter.
“[Hodgkinson] fired a couple of warning shots and then hit my boyfriend with the butt of the gun,” Moreland told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Hodgkinson was also “observed throwing” his daughter “around the bedroom,” the police report said. After the girl broke free, Hodgkinson followed and “started hitting her arms, pulling her hair, and started grabbing her off the bed.”
Moreland said Hodgkinson’s daughter “told me a lot of stories that he was really awful to her.”
“According to his foster daughter, he was always angry,” Moreland said. “She was really unhappy there. She had come over to get away from them.”
When Moreland tried escaping with Hodgkinson’s daughter in a vehicle, Hodgkinson reached inside and “turned off the ignition,” the report said.
“We were panicked and when I tried to reverse, I hit neutral instead and he opened my car door and hit me, and then came to her car door and pulled out a knife and cut her seatbelt and dragged her out,” Moreland said. “She was only 15 or 16, I think. She was so tiny.”
“Do I think he’s capable of [the shooting]?” Moreland said. “Definitely.
“It sounds really awful, but I’m not surprised,” she said. “Every interaction I’ve had I’ve thought, ‘that guy’s crazy.’”
At court, Hodgkinson was no less angry. Moreland said that at an initial court appearance, Hodgkinson had to be removed from the courtroom after a series of eruptions.
“Every time the judge would talk to me, he would have an outburst and start screaming,” Moreland said.
The charges were dismissed, Moreland said, after she got her dates “mixed up” and failed to appear on time for a second court date.
“I tried to tell the court that this guy’s crazy, that this is a big deal, but they didn’t listen to me,” she said.
A Daily Beast reporter tracked down Judge Brian Babka, who presided over the April 2006 charges, at his home in a quiet middle-class subdivision of Belleville. The reporter heard him tell his wife to say that he was not available. The judge would not come to the door to answer questions about why the case was dismissed.
Angry at home, irate online
In June 2006, police were dispatched to Hodgkinson’s home in response to a domestic dispute that began when Hodgkinson allegedly hit a woman’s dog while it slept in her driveway, according to a sheriff’s report.
Hodgkinson also repeatedly called the police to report people on his lawn. In February 2005, he called police to claim juveniles had driven drunk on his property; although there was no damage, he requested extra patrols in the area. In August 2006, he called police to report a vehicle doing a donut in his yard overnight. In January 2007, he called the police after his neighbors’ trash company allegedly turned around on his driveway. In February 2007, he called police to report a car driving on his lawn.
Politically, Hodgkinson was also angry at Republicans, as expressed in letters to the Belleville News-Democrat newspaper.
“I don’t ever again want to hear how great a president [Ronald Reagan] was,” he wrote in March 2010. “All he did was give tax breaks to the rich and put the rest of the country (or at least 13.1 percent) out of work.
“To think the Republican Party can call this man their idol is un-American,” he added. “It’s all about the money.”
The year before, he suggested in a letter to the editor that legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana would be a way to “stimulate the economy.”
“Also to fund the government deficit I hope the Obama administration raises the income tax rate for the rich to 70 percent or more,” he wrote.
On social media, Hodgkinson presented himself as a Sanders supporter and a longtime critic of Republicans, particularly Trump. (Sanders said in a statement that Hodgkinson had volunteered on his campaign.)
Hodgkinson’s Facebook profile was linked to his listed telephone number.
“Trump is a Traitor,” Hodgkinson wrote in a May 22 Facebook post above a Change.org petition to remove Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for treason. “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
On Facebook, he was a member of groups including “Terminate the Republican Party,” “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Republicans,” “Donald Trump is not my President,” and “Memic Overlords.” He recently became particularly vocal, posting anti-Trump messages multiple times a day over two Facebook accounts. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports he attacked Republican congressional candidate Karen Handle, writing on Facebook: “Republican Bitch Wants People to Work for Slave Wages, when a Livable Wage is the Only Way to Go!”
Hodgkinson’s brother told The New York Times he was distraught by Trump’s victory. “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” Michael Hodgkinson said.
Hodgkinson’s Facebook account is vocal in support of Sanders, who lost the Democratic presidential nomination last year. On Twitter, Hodgkinson has tweeted at Sanders as early as 2014. Many of his friends are also Sanders supporters, according to social media.
On a mission?
Neighbor Aaron Meurer told The Daily Beast he lived next to Hodgkinson and his wife for about six years.
“I knew he wasn’t very happy when Trump got elected,” he said, adding that Hodgkinson had a Sanders sign in his yard during the election.
But he hadn’t seen Hodgkinson lately, estimating it had been a few weeks to a couple of months, Meurer said.
“I thought maybe he retired and went on a trip,” he said. “I know he bought a new van. He always drove a truck and then he all the sudden had a van one day.”
And while Meurer never saw Hodgkinson with a gun, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if he had owned one.
“I assume he had guns,” he said. “We live out in a rural area—everybody has guns out here.”
Hodgkinson reportedly left Illinois several weeks ago and was living in Alexandria prior to the attack. Former Alexandria mayor Bill Euille told The Washington Post that he had spoken with Hodgkinson every morning for the past month and a half at a local YMCA. Euille said he frequently observed Hodgkinson showering or working on his laptop at the gym.
Hodgkinson was unemployed and appeared to be living out of his gym bag. “What I did notice about this gentleman is he’d open up his gym bag and in it, he had everything he owned,” Euille told the Post. “He was living out of the gym bag.”
—with additional reporting by P. Richelle White in Belleville, Illinois, and Patricia Murphy in Atlanta, Georgia