WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week as we honor National Law Enforcement Week, we are reminded of the heroism our police officers display every single day. Never was this clearer than 11 months ago today when Capitol Police Special Agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey, and Alexandria police officers Nicole Battaglia, Kevin Jobe, and Alexander Jensen ran into danger and risked their lives to save the lives of everyone on the field for that morning’s Republican Congressional Baseball Game practice.
Take a moment to read about the bravery and miracles of that day as we honor our nation’s men and women in blue.
BuzzFeed: The 9 Minutes That Almost Changed America
By Kate Nocera and Lissandra Villa
May 14, 2018
At around 7:06 a.m., a man in a blue T-shirt approached the field and fired 62 7.62x39mm rounds through a lawfully purchased Century International Arms SKS-style semiautomatic assault rifle. The shooting was, Alexandria’s elected prosecutor concluded, “an act of terrorism” that was “fueled by rage against Republican legislators.” The day was one in a continuum of violent, surreal days over the past year, from mass shootings to Charlottesville.
You may love them, or you may disagree almost everything they stand for, but that morning, the roughly two dozen people on that field just tried to stay alive. Those nine minutes were a near miss of modern American history, between the dark aftermath of a deadly, mass political assassination and our own reality, in which most people don’t think very often about June 14, 2017, the difference between everything changing, and almost nothing changing at all.
Steve Scalise knew he was shot instantly. He felt something as he was trying to turn away from the shooter. “My legs gave out, and I fell down.”
He knew he had to keep moving, or risk another bullet. “You didn’t know how long it was going to last, or what was going to happen next, or, you know, if you were going to get hit again.”
And so one of the most important politicians in America started crawling, using his arms to pull himself toward the outfield from second base. He started praying. He started moving less and less.
After he’d reached shallow grass in right field, his arms gave out.
It felt like forever. People who had made it off the field were calling out to him.
But he stayed out there, alone, because no one could reach him.
Surrounded by cinderblock and lying on concrete, every noise was in stereo. “It just kind of echoes around in there,” says Flake. “That was pretty horrifying to hear all that.”
And ricochet bullets were landing there, too. It occurred to a few of them then that maybe the dugout wasn’t really that safe after all. And if you go to the field, you can see bullet holes through the top of the dugout, sheds, and metal poles on the fence.
“It would be pretty easy for him to just start shooting in there and hitting people — ’cause you couldn’t miss, we were so tightly packed together,” Brooks says.
They kept waiting for the Capitol Police to fire back. (At least one person worried that maybe the agents had been killed, and then…?) They kept waiting for it to end, hoping that they could get out to Scalise, who some could see trying to drag himself into the outfield. They just kept waiting, for what felt like forever, for any noise that wasn’t the shooter. “If we could hear sirens, we would know somebody’s coming to help us,” Williams says.
And then came the shots from the Capitol Police.
“Once I saw the shooter drop, and I knew they had him,” says Rep. Brad Wenstrup, “I took off.”
A man in the nearby dog park filmed a short video posted to YouTube: minutes of the shooting, and a slumped figure, Scalise, in the outfield. As the last blast of bullets ends, several figures race toward him.
Wenstrup, a doctor and Iraq war veteran who had been a medic on battlefields, reached Scalise and did what he’d done so many times before: assess his patient — and Scalise was still conscious. This was good. Steve, can you move your right leg? He could. Also good. Just your foot, just move your foot. Your left foot. A quiver — nerve damage. Wenstrup tried to keep him awake. Steve, can you count to five? Someone took off their shirt so it could be used to apply pressure on the wound. Wenstrup pulled down Scalise’s pant leg — he could see where the bullet had entered. Then he looked on the other side for an exit wound. There wasn’t one.
This is when Wenstrup knew things were bad.
“If there’s no exit wound, that means it went up. And if it went up, now you’re talking a blood vessel.” Blood vessel bleed, internal organ bleed, bone bleed…
Wenstrup remembered a case in Iraq: a soldier who’d suffered a blunt injury to the hip. The soldier saw medics; things were in process. Then he started to drift, the wound started to weep. By the time they opened him up, they were too late. The soldier bled out internally.
Did anybody have a belt? Wenstrup needed one. A belt appeared. Then other things started showing up. Bandages, scissors, modern tourniquets. Wenstrup cut Scalise’s pants open. He put the tourniquet — a CAT tourniquet, as in Combat Application Tourniquet — as high as he could. “You want to stop the bleeding, at least to the leg. I can’t stop what’s going on inside, but at least to the leg and the femoral artery.” He was concerned about the iliac arteries, which run through the pelvis to the hips. So he put the tourniquet on as high as he could, as tight as he could, and taped it on.
Medics started showing up. Did they have a clotting bandage? They handed him a kit — right on top. Gauze, then the clotting bandage, went over the wound.
How quickly could they start an IV? If Scalise were losing fluid… “You’d rather have blood, but you don’t want your vessels to collapse and your heart to stop.” They couldn’t start an IV. The gates were still locked and the medics couldn’t get their ambulance on the field. Wenstrup didn’t want to move Scalise. “Because if the bleeding is starting to stop inside, or whatever, you know, you don’t move him much.”
But they had to keep some fluid going through him; if he was losing fluid, they had to keep some fluid in his system. Steve, can you drink? Wenstrup said. I’m thirsty, came the reply.
Get that Gatorade, just do what you can. Go get some water, whatever you can. Steve, drink as much as you can.
The first thing Richard Krimmer, a first responder, came across when he got to the outfield was a gentleman saying he was a doctor, and that he’d put a tourniquet on the victim.
The tourniquet was applied high on the thigh and was working wonderfully. There was no bleeding. The patient was awake and talking, so Krimmer asked him his name. All right, Steve, we’re gonna take care of you. “Ended up being obviously Congressman Scalise — I didn’t know that for quite a while. We were simply treating him as just a normal patient.”
There were no other injuries that he could see. So they lifted him by the uniform, onto a stretcher, and into Krimmer’s ambulance. He started an IV, a couple of advanced procedures, trying to figure out how bad things were. Scalise, very pale, said he wanted to call his wife; everyone in the medic unit grabbed their phones. The supervisor from Arlington was the fastest on the draw. Scalise left his wife a message, something “that I wanted her to hear in case I didn’t make it.”
“I could sense that I was starting to fade. And I could feel my body shutting down. And, you know, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it.”
The ambulance actually started moving. But a helicopter landed on the baseball field, so they quickly transferred him over onto that instead, and up it went, leaving Brad Wenstrup and the rest on a shell-covered field.
“I’m praying my friend makes it,” Wenstrup said. “In there … that’s what you’ve got to do. Do what you can do. Do anything you can possibly do. And now, after that, it’s out of your hands and it’s like, ‘Oh dear God, please let him live.’”
“If it was just one thing, you could maybe call it a coincidence, but when you add them all up together, the only way you can explain it is that they were all miracles,” Scalise says.
That Steve Scalise was even at the field was a miracle, too.
“The irony is because Steve Scalise was there,” Rodney Davis says, “we all survived.”
Because he is the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, Scalise has a security detail — on that morning, US Capitol Police special agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey. It’s against department policy for agents to speak with the press, so they haven’t been able to tell their story. But all the Republicans who were at the field that day, and the prosecutor’s report, can tell you everything that Bailey and Griner did, will tell you they are heroes, will tell you to talk to them about what they did. They put themselves directly in harm’s way, engaging the shooter so he started firing back at them, instead of everyone else.
Bailey ran onto the field. Per the prosecutor’s report, he heard bullets go by his head and then kept firing back from near the first-base dugout. When Griner got shot through the ankle, she kept trying to engage the shooter from the ground. She propped herself up against a tire and attempted to triage Mika, talk to him, keep him awake until help came. Bailey kept engaging the shooter, having moved back toward the SUV, and continued firing at him as the Alexandria police arrived. He got hit at some point, too, on the inside of the right ankle, by a large piece of shrapnel.
According to the prosecutor’s report, at least six 911 calls were made between 7:09 and 7:12 a.m. Alexandria police officers Kevin Jobe, Alexander Jensen, and Nicole Battaglia arrived there in separate cruisers, and ultimately surrounded the shooter.
“She was fearless, in my opinion. I mean, I broke down when I met her because it was just, like, I’ll never forget that visual of her — just, I’m here to save the day.”
Battaglia, who was closer, drew her weapon and ran toward the shed where the shooter was still firing at the Capitol Police. “I remember watching this very petite policewoman; she came charging in gangbusters. And people are yelling, ‘Stay down, take cover,’” says Wenstrup. “She knew what she was doing and she was fearless, in my opinion. I mean, I broke down when I met her because it was just, like, I’ll never forget that visual of her — just, ‘I’m here to save the day’.”
She got pinned down. Jensen, stationed farther back behind them, hit the shooter in the right hip with a Bushmaster rifle. The shooter fell, dropping his rifle, but then got back up and began firing with a handgun. Jobe and Bailey kept firing at the shooter, and Bailey was able to hit the shooter in the chest. Jensen fired another shot, hitting the shooter in the left hip this time. He was down. By 7:15 a.m., just three minutes after the police arrived on the scene, they had the shooter in handcuffs.
Later, Bailey would tell others that he realized his phone had maybe saved his life — it took a bullet instead of his hip, and he happened to be holding it in the exact right place at the exact right time. Williams, as he relays this story, shows a photo of Bailey’s phone on his phone to remind him of this particular miracle.
“If Steve’s not there, he doesn’t get hit,” Wenstrup says. “But if Steve’s not there, there’s no one firing back. And you could have seen about 20 people laying on the field.”
But many lawmakers are mad, or frustrated, or saddened, at how quickly the story disappeared from the headlines given that the shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, targeted Republicans. The FBI concluded the shooting wasn’t politically motivated — suicide by cop, they told members after an investigation.
But Hodgkinson carried a list of names of lawmakers in his pocket: Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, Trent Franks, Scott DesJarlais, Jeff Duncan, and Morgan Griffith. The list included their office numbers and short physical descriptions. He’d recorded video of the field in April of of that year — a sign, the prosecutor wrote in his official report, that Hodgkinson “had already selected Simpson field as a potential target as early as April 2017.” Rep. Gary Palmer says he had noticed Hodgkinson on the bleachers the day before the shooting; he’d even thought about walking over to him because he looked like he was having “a hard time.”
According to the prosecutor’s report, Hodgkinson had fallen on hard times. He had stopped working and traveled from Illinois to DC sometime in March 2017, telling his family he was leaving to “protest.” He was living in his van near the YMCA, a building adjacent to the field, that he used to shower. His social media posts show that he hated Trump, and supported Bernie Sanders, for whose 2016 campaign he even volunteered. (“I am sickened by this despicable act,” Sanders said the day of the shooting.) He once routinely wrote letters to the local paper, criticizing Republicans.
The FBI briefed the players on their findings in the fall of last year. Several members were shocked they wouldn’t call the shooting politically motivated. Palmer ended up leaving after about a half hour.
“I think most people were really upset,” Palmer says. “I think I may have been the first one that really called them out, and then after I did everybody kind of piled on. I guess everybody was upset. Everybody knew that what they were saying was a crock. The guy had a list. He came there to shoot Republicans.”
He thinks they “misrepresented what happened because of concerns over the political fallout.”
“I felt like they blew it off.”
“They said, ‘So essentially this was suicide by cop.’ And we’re like, ‘Only?’ And I can tell you, I can buy that from what I saw at the end, where he walked out openly shooting,” Wenstrup says. “But let’s not kid ourselves here. You look at his website. He hates Republicans. He had the names of six Republicans in his pocket. He had — his social media is full of it. He camped out there for two months planning this, to kill Republicans. Did he hope to die at the end? Maybe.”
First responders worked hard to keep Hodgkinson alive, even as he was handcuffed on the ground. He died later at the hospital.
What is certain is the disquieting way June 14 slipped beneath the news so quickly. The shooting felt much further away by July, August, September than mere months. If people joke about how the weeks feel like years in the current era, there’s an unsettling truth behind the joke — the way anything can lose scale and proportion. Two dozen members of Congress were nearly killed one morning last year, and the country didn’t change very much at all.