(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, the coach of the Republican congressional baseball team, is determined not to let Wednesday’s shooting, which left member Steve Scalise, R-La., critically injured, stop them from playing Thursday night’s annual charity game.
“If we don’t play this game, it’s been played a hundred years, then we let these people … change the way we live in this country forever, and we’re not going to allow that to happen,” Williams said in an interview Thursday with ABC News Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts.
Williams was among a number of Republican members of Congress and their staffers who were practicing baseball at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, Virginia, Wednesday morning when a gunman open fired, injuring several people.
The annual Congressional Baseball Game (Republicans vs. Democrats) is a 108-year tradition that is more than just a charity event, Williams said. It’s become a lasting symbol of congressional bipartisanship and camaraderie even when the nation is faced with conflict and change.
Members of Congress cheered Wednesday when House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced the game would continue as scheduled. It’s set for Thursday night at Nationals Park with the first pitch thrown shortly after 7 p.m. ET.
Coach Williams said, “When America gets punched, America punches back. And we take days on in America, not off. We need to play this game; it’s the game of America, it’s bipartisan.”
Williams said he was hitting ground balls to Scalise on the field when he heard a sudden explosion, followed by more loud bangs in rapid succession. Williams and other congressmen ran to the dugout to take cover. Williams said he injured his leg and ankle diving to safety in the dugout.
Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Williams, was shot in the leg and he said his “fight or flight” instincts kicked in, allowing him to run to safety.
“I felt the bullet hit my leg,” Barth said in the interview on GMA Thursday, alongside Williams. “[I] ran into the dugout literally running for my life.”
In the dugout, Williams along with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., tied a tourniquet around Barth’s wounded leg using Brooks’ belt. Barth was treated and released from the hospital.
Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Scalise had been shot and was down on the ground of the field. U.S. Capitol Hill Police officers in Scalise’s security detail returned fire at the active shooter. The Alexandria Police Department arrived on scene within minutes and helped disable and capture the gunman.
The shooter, identified by law enforcement as James Thomas Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old home inspector from Bellville, Illinois, later died from injuries sustained in the gunfire exchange.
When they saw the gunman was disabled, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said he, Flake and Brooks ran over to help Scalise, who was still on the ground. Wenstrup said they assessed his injuries and used a belt as a tourniquet to stem the blood flow. Scalise remained conscious and medics eventually arrived on scene to transport him to a hospital.
“I couldn’t find an exit wound, which made me greatly concerned,” Wenstrup, a medical doctor, told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview on GMA Thursday morning. “I asked him to count to five; he was able to do that.”
Brooks said he’s “thankful” that Wenstrup, also an Iraq War veteran, was there to help Scalise.
“Having a physician there on the field with us was extremely important, and the comfort he gave to Steve Scalise, telling him everything was going to be OK,” Brooks said in the interview on GMA, alongside Wenstrup. “That was a great relief and comfort.”
Scalise’s office said in a statement Wednesday that he was shot in the hip and underwent surgery.
MedStar Washington Hospital Center, the facility treating Scalise in Washington, D.C., issued a statement updating the public on his condition Wednesday night.
“Congressman Steve Scalise sustained a single rifle shot to the left hip. The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding,” the hospital said in its statement. “He underwent immediate surgery, and an additional procedure to stop bleeding. He has received multiple units of blood transfusion. His condition is critical, and he will require additional operations.”
Two Capitol Police officers, identified as special agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, were wounded while protecting Scalise. Griner was shot in the ankle and is hospitalized in good condition. Bailey was treated for a minor injury and has been released.
Another special agent, identified as Henry Cabrera, was also protecting Scalise but was not injured, according to Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa.
“Without the Capitol Police, we probably would not be here today,” Williams said. “I think that people across our country need to know how important they were and I think we owe everything to them.”
“If they hadn’t been there holding the shooter at bay, it would’ve been much, much worse,” he added.
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