June 14, 2017 / 11:40 PM / in a month

Gunfire turns U.S. lawmakers' baseball practice into 'killing field'

A police officer mans a shooting scene after a gunman opened fire on Republican members of Congress during a baseball practice near Washington in Alexandria, Virginia, June 14, 2017.Joshua Roberts

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) - U.S. representatives Ron DeSantis and Jeff Duncan had ducked out of baseball practice early on Wednesday when a middle-aged man in the parking lot asked them if the players in red shirts on the field were Republicans or Democrats.

"Republican," Duncan said before departing.

Minutes later, the man, rifle and handgun in tow, opened fire on the congressmen's teammates - Republican lawmakers gathered on a muggy morning near Washington to prepare for a charity ballgame.

"A killing field," U.S. Senator Rand Paul said in a televised interview, describing the scene in Arlington, Virginia.

"We were sitting ducks," said Representative Roger Williams.

Williams, the team coach, told reporters he was hitting ground balls when he heard what sounded like a car engine backfiring.

"He's got a gun! Run for cover," Williams heard next.

He dove into the dugout behind first base. Zack Barth, a staffer shot in the leg, ran in from the outfield and landed in Williams' arms.

Barth texted for help as more bullets flew. U.S. Senator Jeff Flake used his belt as a makeshift tourniquet to stop the staffer's bleeding, Williams said.

Taking cover behind home plate, U.S. Representative Mo Brooks saw a rifle pointing from a chain link fence behind the third base dugout.

A scream rang out from second base, Brooks said.

Steve Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House of Representatives, had been shot in the hip and fell to the ground. He left a trail of blood as he dragged himself to the outfield, seeking distance from the gunman who said nothing as he fired.

On her front porch just across the street from the field in a trendy, family-friendly neighbourhood, Reba Winstead heard a dozen shots.

"A bullet just came down my street,” she told an emergency dispatcher.

Police audio obtained by media recorded a flood of frantic calls: "Shots being fired ... We need medics ... Victim down in the baseball field.”

Alexandria police arrived at 7:12 a.m., about three minutes after the first emergency phone call reporting an active shooter. Members of the Capitol Police, serving as security detail to Scalise, were firing at the gunman.

By 7:14 a.m., the gunman, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson from the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Illinois, was down. Later he died.

Additional reporting and writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller

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