The Republicans were just finishing up with their baseball practice on a balmy morning in the D.C. suburbs when they began to hear gunfire.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who had put on his batting gloves and headed to the batting cages along the first base line of Eugene Simpson Field in Alexandria, turned, only to hear Rep. Trent Kelly, a Mississippi Republican who, like Wenstrup, was an Iraq veteran, yell, “shooter!”
Then he saw House Majority Whip Steve Scalise at second base, drop.
The 10 minutes that followed were interminable for Wenstrup, a 58-year-old podiatric surgeon who spent 2005 and 2006 operating on civilians, service members and prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He watched as the shooter – who started out near the third base line moved steadily around the diamond, “just shooting, shooting, shooting.”
At some point, he hit two Capitol police officers, a lobbyist and a staffer for a House member from Texas. It wasn’t until the Capitol police took the shooter down that Wenstrup could emerge to help.
That’s when his surgeon instincts kicked in. Accompanied by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., and others, he ran to Scalise’s side. Scalise, shot in the left hip, had tried to drag himself from second base toward the dugout by first base. At some point, hobbled by pain, he stopped moving. “I can only think of what was going through his head while the guns are shooting for 10 minutes and he’s laying on the ground,” Wenstrup said.
Someone took off their shirt to help stanch the bleeding. Someone else offered their belt as a tourniquet. Scalise said he was thirsty, and members provided Gatorade and water. Wenstrup asked the Louisiana lawmaker to count to five to get a sense of his mental condition.
Wenstrup looked for an exit wound – he only found an entry wound – and wondered whether the bullet had struck a bone, a major artery or dove up into the organs. “Those were my concern,” he said. When the medics came, he asked for a type of gauze used to help clot blood.
Katy Filous, a Columbus native who now lives in Old Town Alexandria, said she had taken her four dogs to the dog park adjacent to the fields. She trembled as she recalled hearing loud popping sounds and seeing puffs of dirt on the baseball field where the bullets hit the ground.
People screamed to hit the ground. Filous threw herself down in a nearby field with her dogs, belly crawling eventually to a nearby car that she tried to use for cover.
“People were screaming, ‘he has a rifle, he has a rifle,’” she said.
Another member of the team, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, told CNN the "field was basically a killing field."
"Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said. “He was just killing everyone. It would have been a massacre."
In the YMCA, Ryan Walsh, 19, and Alex Heimberg, 19, were in the basement weight room when they heard popping sounds. A man suddenly sprinted down the stairs screaming that there was an active shooter in the parking lot.
The two friends rushed with others into an adjacent locker room. They huddled there for 20 minutes along with about 10 others. Their reactions ranged from terror to a preternatural calm: One man, they said, wrapped a towel around his waist and wandered into the sauna to wait out the danger.
They came out to an altered scene: Emergency vehicles, armored trucks and helicopters were swarming. The YMCA’s front windows were riddled with bullet holes.
Outside, David Woodruff of Alexandria was jogging by when he heard 12 to 14 gun shots. He looked over his shoulder, ran 10 to 15 steps, then heard four or five more. He quickly ducked into a nearby parking garage, called 911 and waited.
When he came out, he saw two lawmakers he recognized. “They were clearly distraught and shaken up,” he said.
He didn’t feel in danger until later, when he saw bullet holes in a nearby electric transformer, and in the window of a car he’d just walked next to. His son, he said, had been playing baseball at that field last night.
“It’s a bucolic area,” he said of the neighborhood. “If you were to get dropped in here, you’d never really realize it’s only eight miles from the U.S. Capitol.”
Wenstrup, who returned to Capitol Hill after the shooting, said he left the scene feeling determined. “I’m not going to let them beat me,” he said.
But he worried about his colleagues. He and other members with combat experience worried about members who he could tell were “shook.” They planned to reach out, to tell them that while the situation was not normal, having a reaction to it is.
Would he be going to Thursday’s congressional ball game. “You’re darn right I will," he said.
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