A mass shooting during a congressional baseball practice early Wednesday morning could have been a full-blown “massacre,” Congress members say. Instead, two special agents put their lives on the line, potentially saving dozens of others.
Capitol Police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey are special agents on Rep. Steve Scalise’s security detail. Scalise was standing near second base in an Alexandria, Virginia park when the bullets began flying from behind the third base dugout, striking Scalise. While Scalise dragged himself to safety, Griner and Bailey lept into action. In an extended firefight, the two agents took down shooter James Hodgkinson while battling through injuries of their own. Both were taken to the hospital after the gunfight, and are recovering from their injuries, officials say.
It was exactly the kind of bravery the agents’ colleagues, friends, and family have come to expect from the pair.
“He is truly the hero that this tragedy has shown the public he is,” Casey Adams Jones, a friend of Bailey’s, told The Daily Beast.
Adams Jones met Bailey when they were both college students in North Carolina a decade ago. Bailey returned home after graduation with hopes of becoming a police officer, and joined the Capitol Police about eight years ago, Adams Jones added.
“He always had a passion for law enforcement,” she said. “He refers to the other officers as his brothers and sisters.”
Another friend, Danielle Carpenter, echoed Adams Jones’ comments.
“He definitely takes his job very seriously. He works really hard and is committed to keeping the Whip safe and to serving,” Carpenter told The Daily Beast. “He is a leader in all ways. He is one of the best guys I’ve ever met—is kind to everyone and always makes sure that everyone feels safe and taken care of. Dave is really proud of his Brazilian and Jamaican heritage and you can tell he would do anything for family. He considers Congressman Scalise and his family as his own, so it is no surprise that he would make any sacrifice necessary to keep Whip Scalise safe.”
The Carpenter joked: “He is a professional on all levels and he loves ketchup.”
Most congress members do not have their own security details. But high-ranking officials like Scalise, the House Majority Whip, are assigned security teams. Griner and Bailey are veterans of those special teams, and have spent years on Capitol Hill earning the admiration of high-profile politicians. Both agents previously served on the security detail of former Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “[Griner’s] an incredibly able and professional individual who always takes her job and responsibility seriously,” Cantor told The Daily Beast. “It is not surprising to hear of her heroism and bravery during this horrible attack.”
“The bravery David showed reflects the kind of commitment he, Crystal, and the team demonstrated each and every day,” Cantor continued. “Incidents like the attack today are never something many of us even imagine happening. David is a trained professional who was and remains ready to act whatever the threat. Wishing him a full recovery.” Bailey is a nine-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, and previously worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to his LinkedIn page. He graduated from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina, in 2007, where he is listed as a former president of the university’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.
Griner is a 2006 graduate of Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Griner was a basketball star through high school and college, and quickly became one of Hood’s top scorers in her freshman year. The Maryland native mostly “keeps to herself,” one Hill staffer noted. (The U.S. Capitol Police did not return a request for comment on Griner’s service time.)
But one of Griner’s former classmates at Hood College described the agent as a major force on campus.
“She was a woman to be reckoned with at Hood: an amazing athlete and a lively presence,” the classmate wrote on Facebook. “It does not surprise me at all that she would think so quickly and act so courageously. You’re not on Facebook, Crystal, but I’m honored to know you. Wishing you a speedy recovery and the knowledge that you have the gratitude of the nation behind you!”
Carpenter, Bailey’s friend, described Griner as “one of the sweetest people I have ever met… wonderful and also professional on all levels.” Officials described the agents’ injuries as non life-threatening.
“I’m grateful that Special Agent Griner is in good condition in the hospital having been shot in the ankle, and Special Agent Bailey was treated and released having sustained a minor injury during the incident,” U.S. Capitol Police chief Matthew Verderosa said in a statement Wednesday late afternoon.
The two officers are well-liked on Capitol Hill, and Republican aides who know them describe both Griner and Bailey warm and funny people, who avoid the spotlight and approach their jobs with the utmost seriousness and professionalism. “I was privileged and honored to work alongside the U.S. Capitol Police and to know Agents Bailey and Griner and their colleagues,” Rory Cooper, a GOP strategist and former Cantor communications director, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday afternoon. “[Bailey and Griner] are some of the finest officers in law enforcement.”
Republican lawmakers who spoke with reporters on Wednesday emphasized that the Capitol Police officers were only present at the event because Scalise, a member of the House leadership team, was on the field. If Scalise hadn’t attended with his security detail, lawmakers said, many of their colleagues likely would have been slaughtered by Hodgkinson.
“Our lives were saved by the Capitol Police. Had they not been there I think it would have been a massacre,” Sen. Rand Paul said on CNN after the shooting. “The field, I mean, was basically a killing field.” But the Capitol Police officers weren’t the only ones credited with saving lives during the shootout.
As Scalise was on the ground bleeding from the hip, Ohio Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a former Army combat surgeon who served in the Iraq War, rushed over to him to provide immediate medical attention to Scalise’s hip before the first responders arrived. Rep. Mo Brooks, who was also present, said during an interview on CNN that Wenstrup “was getting some kind of scissors device to cut through the pants” and stop the bleeding. Wenstrup said the entire ordeal made him feel like he was back on the battlefield in Iraq. “You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” Wenstrup told The Daily Beast. “Capitol Police and emergency responders reacted swiftly and courageously—we are grateful for their presence.” His colleagues said they shuddered to think what would happen if the medical aid or Scalise’s security team had not been on the scene when Hodgkinson opened fire.
“If a venue like a baseball field with innocent members—they are practicing for a charity baseball game—can be a killing field, then we should all be concerned,” Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack said. “The sobering effects of a shooting like this, knowing that if Steve Scalise were to be somewhere else this morning, we would be talking about a carnage of untold proportions.”
Womack and others said they foresee security changes for public congressional events. Lawmakers who attended an all-members meeting on the Hill following the shooting said they discussed the possibility of beefing up security, including at private residences, due to a recent influx of death threats.
“The heroes are the police officers who attacked the shooter, and in doing so quite probably saved many, many lives,” Rep. Joe Barton, still wearing his baseball uniform and choking up a few times, told reporters before entering the briefing for members of Congress. Barton’s first reaction was to shield his son, who was with him at the field Wednesday morning.
“I know that we want to give our thanks to the first responders and the Alexandria Police Department which were on the scene in minutes,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the floor of the chamber, mentioning Bailey and Griner by name as members gave a standing ovation. “And I know this House wants to state unequivocally that we are, as ever, awed by the tremendous bravery of the Capitol Police.”
—with additional reporting by Jackie Kucinich