A Florida congressman who was practicing with the Republican congressional baseball team shortly before a gunman opened fire Wednesday morning said the shooter asked him if Republicans or Democrats were on the field before the shooting.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who represents Florida's 6th congressional district in Jacksonville, said he was at the practice but decided to leave a little early with Rep. Jeff Duncan, of South Carolina.
"When we were in the car, an individual came us to us and asked us whether they were Republicans or Democrats on the field, Jeff told them it was Republicans, he kind of turned and then walked towards the field after that," DeSantis said in an interview with NBC News. "It was a little strange but we didn't think necessarily anything of it, by the time we got back to Capitol Hill, and the news broke, Jeff and I immediately talked to each other, we said 'look, we've gotta report this guy.'"
The gunman, identified as 66-year-old James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, opened fire on the practice in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, around 7 a.m. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and several others were injured in the shooting.
"He walked away from our vehicle and I think it was five or ten minutes later that he started shooting," DeSantis said.
DeSantis said when he heard the name of the shooter reported, he did a Google image search and found Hodgkinson's Twitter account, then sent the image to Duncan.
"I said 'Jeff, this is him, right?' Jeff said 'yeah, that's him,'" DeSantis said. "Both Congressman Duncan and myself believe that yes, the individual that approached us was the same individual who's been identified as the shooter."
DeSantis said that if he hadn't left early, he likely would have been targeted by the gunman.
"I would have been at third base, so he was shooting from the third base side at Scalise, who was playing second, I would have been much closer to the shooter," DeSantis said. "We obviously were just trying to beat some traffic, never thought that you'd ever have any incident like this, but had we just decided to stay a little longer, I mean who knows what would have happened. I still don't think I've come to terms with what happened yet."
DeSantis said he was thankful that Scalise travels with a Capitol Police security detail.
"Had Steve not come to practice this morning, you would not have had any security there at all, and I think this guy would have injured and killed a number of people, I think it would have been very ugly," DeSantis said. "Those Capitol Police saved a lot of lives today."