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Gunman at Virginia ballfield kept local storage locker with ammunition

By Ann E. Marimow and Dana Hedgpeth

The gunman who opened fire on a GOP baseball team in Virginia had a local storage locker with more than 200 rounds of ammunition that he visited daily including less than an hour before he shot more than 60 times at the team during a morning practice June 14.

A list containing the names of six members of Congress also was found on the gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, but FBI agent Timothy R. Slater of the Washington Field Office Criminal Division said he would not characterize it as a “hit list” or as individuals being targeted.

The updates on the investigation of the attack that wounded five, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., came Wednesday with the FBI saying it still was not clear what motivated the unemployed home inspector from Illinois to travel to the Washington-area where he spent months living in his van in Alexandria, Virginia, before launching the shootings.

At a Wednesday press conference, federal officials gave more details about Hodgkinson calling him a desperate man who was unemployed, running out of money, taking prescription drugs, having anger issues and was in what the FBI said was a troubled marriage.

Hodgkinson was “struggling in all kinds of different ways," said Slater.

The officials also described the June 14 shooting at the Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria as more of a spontaneous event and said there was no nexus with terrorism and that he had acted alone.

Hodgkinson also “did not place any online posts of threats or references to members of Congress or the Congressional baseball game,” according to the update from the FBI.

Who shot Hodgkinson remains under investigation by Alexandria and U.S. Capitol Police, the FBI said. And the reason why he arrived at Alexandria from his hometown of Belleville also remains under review, the FBI said.

His wife has said in media interviews that he left their home saying he was headed to Washington to work on tax policy. In late March, deputies were called when his Belleville neighbors complained of Hodgkinson firing rounds into pine trees near homes. On Wednesday the FBI called that “target practice.”

The FBI said Hodgkinson arrived in Alexandria sometime in March.

The day before the attack at the ballfield, he engaged in a profane tirade against President Donald Trump in a conversation with a mechanic in Alexandria, echoing some of the criticisms of Trump and Republicans that he had posted on social media accounts.

There was “no context included” with the list of names of members of Congress that was found on Hodgkinson, said FBI officials who declined to say what names were on the list or what political party affiliations.

During his time in the Washington area, Hodgkinson participated in a demonstration over tax reform on April 15, FBI officials said. And sometime between April 15 and April 26, Hodgkinson visited the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and was “in communication” with offices of his Illinois senators.

For most of that window in April, Congress was not in session.

A Sanders’ spokesman said Wednesday he was reviewing office records to confirm the visit.

Hodgkinson displayed a photo of the Vermont Independent on his Facebook page.

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

A review of one of Hodgkinson’s laptops by the FBI found that he had searched the web but “only cursory” searches of two of those members on the list.

A “rough sketch of several streets” in the District of Columbia was also found but officials said it was believed to be “not of investigative significance.”

Authorities revealed Wednesday that Hodgkinson had legally purchased a 7.62 mm caliber SKS rifle in March 2003 and a 9mm handgun after the election in November 2016. The rifle had been modified, the FBI said.

Officials said there were no specific mental health issues he had but one FBI official said Hodgkinson was “struggling in a lot of aspects in his life.”

Slater, special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said at the press conference that Hodgkinson was “known to have an anger management problem.” He said it appeared Hodgkinson was married for 30 years and the marriage was not “going so well.” Slater said Hodgkinson “suffered from taking some prescription medication.”

He said it also appeared Hodgkinson was running out of money in Alexandria. For weeks, witnesses later said they had seen him spending time – but not working out – at the YMCA across from the field.

Hodgkinson’s online political rants were mostly anti-Republican and officials said they were within his First Amendment rights. On the morning of the shooting, Hodgkinson had asked a witness near the field if it was Democrats or Republicans playing.

When the witness told him the team was Republicans, Hodgkinson stayed nearby.

Officials also said Hodgkinson had kept a storage locker in Alexandria and visited it 43 times between April and June, usually between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. At times, he went to the unit daily and sometimes more than once. On the day of the shooting, he went to the unit at 6:23 a.m. and left at 6:35 a.m.

When the unit was searched, authorities found components for the SKS rifle, a receipt for a November 2016 gun purchase and 200 rounds of ammunition. Officials said they also searched the van he had been living out of in the parking lot of the YMCA and found indications on his computer that he intended to go home.

On the day of the incident, Hodgkinson shot at the players on the field with the semiautomatic rifle and the 9mm handgun and had bought the weapons from licensed gun dealers, according to the FBI. There has been no evidence found, officials said, suggesting the gun sales were illegal.

In addition to his social media accounts, he wrote letters to his local newspaper that blamed Republicans for what he considered an agenda that helped the wealthy.

The group of lawmakers and staffers were practicing for a charity game against a team of Democrats that was played the next day and raised over $1 million. Scalise was shot once and gravely injured. He underwent several surgeries and remains hospitalized at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

A lobbyist, a congressional aide and a U.S. Capitol Police officer were also shot in the incident. Another U.S. Capitol Police officer was struck by shrapnel and Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, injured his ankle while helping others take cover.

The officers, who were assigned to Scalise’s security detail and exchanged gunfire with Hodgkinson, were credited with helping prevent more people from being injured that day.

The FBI had said Hodgkinson came to Alexandria in March. He had become somewhat of a fixture at the YMCA, carrying a laptop and a gym bag. He would watch the field where the Republican baseball team had been practicing for about two months.

Some users of the YMCA noticed him but later said they were never suspicious of him, while others described him as odd or a “sourpuss.”

Online and to his local newspaper, he made a trail of political rants against the “super rich” and Republicans. One recent Facebook post of his read: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.”

Hodgkinson had been involved in a protest in Belleville, Ill., where he was living outside a U.S. post office building. A photo in the local paper showed him with a sign that read, “Tax the Rich.” He also had several run-ins with local law enforcement in Illinois and disagreements with neighbors.

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