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FBI Continues Investigation Into Congressional Baseball Practice Shooter

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Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise remains in critical condition today. He and five other people were injured when a man opened fire on the congressional Republicans baseball team yesterday. Investigators are trying to understand what led the man, James Hodgkinson, to attack them. They have lots of questions, as do residents of the northern Virginia neighborhood where the team was practicing. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre reports.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: When James Hodgkinson arrived from Illinois in Alexandria, Va., a couple months ago, he became a neighborhood fixture. He lived out of his white cargo van. Every day, he planted himself in the lobby of the YMCA, which looks out on the baseball field where yesterday's shooting took place. Trial lawyer Stephen Brennwald works out regularly at the Y. He first noticed Hodgkinson several weeks ago.

STEPHEN BRENNWALD: I saw this gentleman sitting with his back to a window that faces the parking lot and the ballfield.

MYRE: Brennwald didn't think anything of it at first. But he kept seeing Hodgkinson day after day, alone with his laptop.

BRENNWALD: Over the course of two or three weeks, it just looked more and more strange because I never saw him working out. I never saw anything that made it look like he had worked out. He always had his head down or maybe just staring off into space.

MYRE: Then he saw Hodgkinson's face on television yesterday.

BRENNWALD: It was just chilling, you know, because the face looked familiar, but I couldn't place it. All of a sudden, it hit me. And I just went right back to the TV and looked. I'm like, oh, my God. That is him.

MYRE: The FBI says it found a rifle and a 9 mm handgun at the scene of the shooting. The bureau also says they were purchased from a legal seller. Authorities recovered Hodgkinson's cell phone, computer and camera from his van, parked, as it often was, at the YMCA.

The streets around the scene are still blocked off as law enforcement officials speak to residents and visit other places where Hodgkinson was seen, like a barbecue restaurant. Investigators are trying to figure out why he picked this location, which is near Washington but not at the center of political activity. Here's FBI agent Tim Slater.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM SLATER: We continue to actively investigate the shooter's motives, acquaintances and whereabouts.

MYRE: Hodgkinson, a home inspector, volunteered for the Bernie Sanders campaign last year. He was active on Facebook. He wrote letters to his local newspaper. The recurring theme was harsh criticism of Republicans and a call for higher taxes on the rich. Investigators are now trying to piece together a timeline of his final days.

Back on March 24, Hodgkinson fired a hunting rifle into some trees outside his home, a rural part of Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. A neighbor called the police, who went to the house and told him to stop shooting. The FBI believes Hodgkinson got in his van and drove to Alexandria a few days later. He picked a community where residents like Natalie Baginski stop and chat to neighbors as a matter of course.

NATALIE BAGINSKI: It's just a neighborhood where you're out. You're out with your dogs. You're out with your kids. You're out with your family. Nobody ever considers that they need to worry while they're walking down the street - not in this neighborhood.

MYRE: Baginski was walking her dog yesterday and heard the shots just a couple blocks away. But she didn't realize what they were because it's such a quiet neighborhood. She contrasted this with the place she works, Capitol Hill.

BAGINSKI: Which is actually a neighborhood where I am a little more vigilant when I'm walking from my car to work. The way I conduct myself in this neighborhood is vastly different than my vigilance at work.

MYRE: Just down the street from Baginski's home, the Republican congressmen practice three mornings a week for several weeks on the same field. Yesterday, they were holding one final workout before tonight's charity game against Democrats, which will go ahead as planned. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.