A group of about 25 Republican lawmakers took to a baseball field in suburban Washington, D.C., for practice around 7 a.m. last Wednesday, the day before the Congressional Baseball Game — their annual faceoff against Democratic rivals, played for charity and bragging rights.
The team coach, Austin-area U.S. Rep. Roger Williams — a car dealer who once had dreams of playing in the pros — had just moved to the first base side of the field to hit ground balls towards the second baseman, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise.
He hit the first ball. A gunshot rang. The ball players thought the sound might be a car backfiring, only to be followed by another and another.
“Boom, boom, boom. And everybody yelled, ‘He’s got a gun, take cover,’” Williams said, recounting the shooting ambush at a news conference in Austin on Monday, his first public remarks in his home district since the attack.
The gunman shot Scalise in the hip, critically injuring him. Paramedics would rush the powerful Republican lawmaker to a local hospital in Washington, where he continued on Monday to recover after a series of surgeries. Three others would be hit by gunfire, including Williams’ aide, Zack Barth. Police would arrive within three to four minutes and fatally shoot the assailant, James Hodgkinson, an Illinois native with a history of outbursts and violent behavior.
All of that would happen. But, in those first moments, Scalise was felled on second base and trying to drag himself into the outfield to get away from the bullets, witnesses would recount, and Williams was sprinting for the dugout. He dove in head-first, he said, 6 feet down — like “diving into a swimming pool with no water.” There were 10 other people in there, Williams estimated, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and the son of U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis.
“That’s a horrible feeling, to have your colleagues and comrades and you just can’t do anything for them,” Williams said.
The seconds ticked by — and the bullets kept coming.
Shot in the leg and bleeding, Barth managed to make his way from the outfield to the dugout and dove inside and into Williams arms.
Two Capitol Police officers who had accompanied Scalise, the No. 3 House Republican, returned fire. Williams said he heard reports that one took five bullets to the chest — and lived thanks to his bulletproof vest.
“If they had not been there, it would have been totally different,” he said. “Without the Capitol Police, we wouldn’t be here.”
The attack’s toll was evident in the room at the Texas Capitol, where the news conference took place. Williams hobbled to the podium, his leg in a brace. His voice cracked with emotion as he recounted the events of that day.
He updated reporters on Barth’s status — he is expected to make a full recovery — and the repeatedly noted the heroism of the police officers and others on the field.
“Zack and I were able to go to the Capitol, where they had Officer (David) Bailey” — one of the two Capitol Police officers at the field — “there, and just us three, and I was able to put my arm around him and thank him for saving my life.”
He nodded, almost to himself.