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Emerging portrait of shooting suspect James T. Hodgkinson: anti-Trump rhetoric on social media, repeat visits to YMCA near Virginia ballfield

The Washington Post logoThe Washington Post 6/14/2017 Ann E. Marimow, Tom Jackman, Shawn Boburg

A law enforcement official stands in a batting cage in the right field area in the aftermath of the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice. © John McDonnell/The Washington Post A law enforcement official stands in a batting cage in the right field area in the aftermath of the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice. The Illinois man suspected of firing dozens of rounds at a Congressional baseball practice in Alexandria Wednesday morning was highly critical of President Trump and other Republican leaders on social media, and had volunteered for the presidential campaign of Democrat Bernie Sanders.

Law enforcement officials were still investigating what motivated James T. Hodgkinson, 66, whose attack injured five people, including a GOP lawmaker and two Capitol police officers.

Hodgkinson, who died after a shootout with police, worked as a home inspector and lived with his wife in Belleville, a suburb of St. Louis. But he appeared to have stayed in the Alexandria area for at least the last six weeks, according to former Alexandria mayor Bill Euille and one other man. As Hodgkinson’s photo circulated in the news Wednesday, both men said they realized they had encountered Hodgkinson regularly at the local YMCA across the street from the baseball field.

In a series of letters to his local newspaper, Hodgkinson repeatedly blasted Republican lawmakers for favoring the “super rich.” A Facebook page believed to be his features pictures of Sanders, and anti-Trump rhetoric, including a recent post that reads: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

The Republican lawmaker who represented Hodgkinson’s hometown said he was “always angry” about the GOP agenda, but “never crossed the line.”

Hodgkinson contacted the office of Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) 14 times through email or telephone.

“Every issue that we were working on, he was not in support of,” Bost said, saying the communications were of a left-wing slant but delivered “never with any threats, only anger.”

It was not known on Wednesday exactly where or for how long Hodgkinson had been staying in the Washington area. He was still in Illinois as of March 24, according to reports of interactions he had with police from St. Clair County, Ill.

Stephen Brennwald, an Alexandria resident and attorney, said he realized that Hodgkinson was the same man he had seen hanging out for at least the last several weeks in the lobby of the YMCA .

Euille, the former Alexandria mayor, said Hodgkinson spent hours sitting in the YMCA lobby with his gym bag. Euille said he was told by the YMCA’s manager that Hodgkinson had been at gym again on Wednesday morning and headed toward the ballfield at about 7 a.m.

After the shooting, people who knew Hodgkinson personally described him as politically active, but reserved.

Dale Walsh, a friend of Hodgkinson’s, said Wednesday that Hodgkinson was passionate about his beliefs but always appeared to be “in control.” He said he believes Hodgkinson was “pretty well fed up” with the political situation, but he said the news of the shooting was a shock.

“I guess I just want to let people know that he’s not evil,” Walsh said outside Hodgkinson’s home in Belleville. “I guess he was tired of some of the politics going on. Like in this state, we have politicians collecting a check and doing absolutely nothing for us.”

Walsh said Hodgkinson once worked as a home builder before his home inspections business. “To me, he was just a nice guy,” Walsh said.

Charles Orear, 50, a restaurant manager from St. Louis said he became friendly with Hodgkinson during their work together in Iowa on Sanders’s 2016 campaign. Orear said Hodgkinson was a passionate progressive and showed no signs of violence or malice toward others.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Orear said when told by phone about the shooting.

Orear described Hodgkinson as a “quiet guy” who was “very mellow, very reserved” when they stayed overnight at the home of a Sanders supporter in Rock Island, Ill., after canvassing for the Vermont senator.

“He was this union tradesman, pretty stocky, and we stayed up talking politics,” he said. “He was more on the really progressive side of things.”

Robert Becker, who served as the Iowa director of the Sanders campaign, said Hodgkinson had no formal role on the campaign and that he couldn’t find anyone who remembered him.

Ahead of the caucuses, about 10,000 people volunteered for Sanders at varying points.

Sanders said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday that “I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be. Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

Law enforcement officials arrived at his home in a rural community southeast of St. Louis shortly after 11:30 a.m. The modest, rectangular clapboard farm house sits amid fields of young corn and budding soy.

Neighbors said Wednesday that Hodgkinson put his motorcycle up for sale in recent months. One neighbor, a man in jeans and a straw cowboy hat who declined to give his name, said Hodgkinson has not lived at the house for “quite a while.”

His wife, a receptionist at a local accounting office in Belleville, told neighbors in April that he was planning to retire from his home inspection business, they said. Employees at the accounting office declined to comment Wednesday, and said that his wife was gone for the day.

Over the years, Hodgkinson has had multiple scrapes with local police and disputes with neighbors and his daughter, records show.

Police most recently encountered Hodgkinson on March 24, records from the St. Clair County Sheriff show. The sheriff received a phone call reporting about 50 shots “in the pine trees” in a lightly populated area near Belleville.

A deputy responded shortly after 3:05 p.m. and found that Hodgkinson “did have in his possession a valid Illinois FOID [firearms owner identification] card,” and that the deputy advised Hodgkinson “to not discharge his weapon in the area.”

Hodgkinson apparently complied and the deputy left without taking any further action.

Karman and Bill Schaumleffel, neighbors across a small cornfield on the back edge of the Hodgkinson property, recalled seeing a man shooting a rifle out into the field about two or three months ago. The shots followed in a rapid, steady staccato as if, they said, from a semiautomatic rifle. The Schaumleffels said Hodgkinson kept to himself.

Earlier, in April 2006, police records show Hodgkinson went to a neighbor’s house looking for his daughter and “used bodily force to damage” a wooden door upstairs. Witnesses said Hodgkinson forced his way into the home looking for his daughter and grabbed her by the hair when he found her upstairs, according to a police narrative on file with St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.

His daughter escaped and got into the neighbor’s car, but Hodgkinson opened the door of the car, pulled out a pocket knife and cut off the seat belt she was wearing, records show. Hodgkinson’s wife joined him, struggling to pull their daughter out of the car, as Hodgkinson punched the neighbor who was in the driver’s seat of the car in the face, witnesses told police.

Later, Joel Fernandez, the boyfriend of the woman who was punched, went to Hodgkinson’s home to confront him. He said Hodgkinson “walked outside with a shotgun and aimed it at Fernandez face,” a complaint states. Hodgkinson struck Fernandez on the side of his face with the wooden stock of the shotgun and fired off one round as Fernandez ran away.

Police arrested Hodgkinson and his wife and charged them with domestic battery and aggravated discharge of a firearm, according to a narrative obtained by The Post. Police also recovered a 12-guage shotgun. The county clerk’s online database shows the charges were later dismissed.

A few months later, police were called to an argument with a neighbor after Hodgkinson “accidentally struck her dog while it was sleeping in the roadway,” record show. Hodgkinson made multiple complaints about neighbors damaging his lawn by driving through it.

The local newspaper in Belleville featured a 2012 picture of Hodgkinson protesting outside the U.S. Post Office building and holding a sign with the message “Tax the Rich.” The Belleville News-Democrat described Hodgkinson as part of a “99 percent” team that was bringing attention to the financial and political power of the top 1 percent of Americans.

Hodgkinson posted regularly on Facebook, as often as three or four times a week, typically linking to a cartoon or article that was critical of Republicans. In January 2015, he linked to a cartoon about Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the people he is suspected of shooting Wednesday, writing the headline, “Here’s a Republican that should Lose His Job, but they Gave Him a Raise.”

He last posted on Facebook on May 24, urging his Facebook friends to sign a petition against the Nexus gas pipeline between Michigan and Ohio.

Hodgkinson attended Belleville Area College in 1971, which is now called Southwestern Illinois College, the school confirmed. The college, a public two-year school, does not have a record of Hodgkinson receiving a degree.

According to public records, Hodgkinson was a licensed home inspector in Illinois, but his license lapsed last November. A web page on Yelp indicates that Hodgkinson had been doing home inspections since 1994 and had 30 years experience in construction and remodeling as a general contractor, and that he worked in Missouri and Illinois.

Kurt Shillinger and Eric Habert in Belleville, Ill., and Patricia Sullivan, Robert Costa, Peter Jamison, Mike DeBonis, Sarah Larimer, Perry Stein, John Wagner, Karoun Demirjian, Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.


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