Rants to rampage: The life of ballfield gunman James T. Hodgkinson
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BELLEVILLE, Ill. — One of his neighbors called the cops when he fired a high-powered rifle into the trees.
He was no stranger to the office of his congressman, contacting him at least 10 times in the past year — always angry.
He volunteered for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bid, and his Facebook page contained anti-Trump sentiment. His letters to the local newspaper complained about income inequality.
And he had left his Belleville, Illinois, home weeks ago, headed to Washington D.C., to protest the government.
Such were the snapshots that emerged Wednesday of James T. Hodgkinson, 66, the man authorities say opened fire on Republican members of Congress and their aides as they practiced for a charity baseball game.
The shooter wounded five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. The suspect was wounded by police, taken into custody and dead within hours.
Even before Hodgkinson’s name was publicly released, Capitol Police — who were at the baseball practice as part of Scalise’s security detail — had called the office of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., whose southwestern Illinois district includes Belleville. Staffers checked their records and discovered those frequent phone calls. Hodgkinson “never threatened” anyone but was “always angry,” Bost said.
His emails and calls were on subjects including Social Security and health care, “whatever the current event was,” Bost said.
Hodgkinson’s brother told the New York Times that James Hodgkinson had been in the Washington area for several weeks. According to the Washington Post, he’d been doing early morning workouts at the Alexandria, Virgina, YMCA next to the baseball field for about the past month and a half.
But back on March 24, he was in his yard in Belleville, shooting at pine trees.
“This guy is like 150 yards from our ranch-style house,” neighbor William Schaumleffel told the Sun-Times. “That thing was loud.”
Schaumleffel said his grandchildren — ages 3 and 6 — were playing in his yard while Hodgkinson was shooting.
“He was holding a gun to his shoulder and I yelled at him, ‘Don’t be shooting across the field,’” Schaumleffel said, adding that he was worried because other houses were about a quarter mile downrange from where Hodgkinson was firing.
“My wife got the kids in the house, and I said, ‘I am going to call the sheriff.’ But this guy wasn’t listening to me or couldn’t hear me.”
A police report shows a St. Clair County sheriff’s deputy arrived and spoke to Hodgkinson, telling him to stop firing. The report noted Hodgkinson had a valid firearm owner’s ID card. He also had a state concealed-carry permit, a law-enforcement source said.
Schaumleffel said he’d never spoken to Hodgkinson except for that day. “The first time I ever saw him up close was his picture on TV today,” he said.
Another neighbor, Fred Widel, said he’s lived a few hundred yards from Hodgkinson and his wife for the past three years.
Widel was at work when another neighbor texted him that Hodgkinson — whom he says went by “Tom” — was the alleged shooter.
“I started laughing and I texted back like ‘Tom? Yeah, right,’ ” Widel said. “I got online and it was his picture, and I’m kind of floored.”
“He has never had a hot temper with me.”
Widel said that Hodgkinson was never overly political.
Last fall, Widel said, Hodgkinson came over to help him find his septic tank, which was due to be drained. Hodgkinson told him he drains his every four years — coinciding with the presidential election — “because of all the s—.”
Hodgkinson kept a Sanders for president sign on his front lawn. Hodgkinson and his wife were “not anti-sociable, but they’re not real sociable.”
On occasion, he said, Hodgkinson’s wife would bring over vegetables she grew in her garden or invite Widel and his family over for a party. “Tom was a regular guy,” Widel said.
Hodgkinson’s brother told the New York Times that James Hodgkinson had traveled to Washington D.C. in recent weeks. “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” the brother, Michael Hodgkinson, told the Times, though the shooting was “totally out of the blue.”
Former Alexandria, Virginia, Mayor Bill Euille told the Washington Post he had seen Hodgkinson nearly every morning for the past month-and-a-half at the local YMCA. Euille said he had tried to help Hodgkinson find work after he realized that he was living out of his gym bag.
Hodgkinson’s Facebook page contained anti-Trump statements. “Trump is a Traitor,” Hodgkinson wrote in a March 22 post. “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”
His Facebook page was topped by a picture of Sanders. Sanders issued a statement confirming Hodgkinson had volunteered for his presidential campaign and saying he was “sickened by this despicable act.”
Hodgkinson voted in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Democratic primaries, voter registration records show. He had been a home inspector, operating as JTH Inspections, according to his Facebook page. His home inspector license, issued in February 2003, expired in November 2016, according to state records.
Dale Walsh, 65, of Belleville, who called himself a lifelong friend of Hodgkinson, said Hodgkinson never talked politics with him but was a passionate person who occasionally got into fights.
“He was the type of person that if you challenged him, he wouldn’t back off.”
Sam Charles reported from Belleville. Lynn Sweet reported from Washington. Frank Main and Stefano Esposito reported from Chicago.
Contributing: Rachel Hinton, Associated Press