Gunshots! Shooter! Run! I’m not likely to forget that sequence anytime soon. The trauma of the congressional baseball shooting will unfold and recapitulate itself in our minds for some time.
The shooter was a blur to me, but I was close enough to see the dirt fly with each barrage of bullets. Thank God for the diameter of a large willow oak just outside the right field batting cage.
The first shot rang out in isolation. We weren’t even sure, at first, if it was a shot. But there was no question when the next five to 10 shots followed. Rep. Steve Scalise was shot in that first barrage. Rep. Trent Kelly stared down the muzzle from less than 20 yards, and the shooter missed repeatedly as he careened, zigzagging toward the first base dugout.
From my spot against the oak tree, I watched as Zach Barth and another staffer raced along the warning track from left field toward my location in right field. As they dove into the dirt, face first, the bullets sent puffs of dirt around them.
A 20-foot chain-link fence separated me from them. I felt helpless, with no weapon and no way to reach the wounded. Rep. Scalise lay at second base, but no one could help him.
Large, long series of shots rang out across the field.
The decision for all of us was: Should I stay or should I go? Which was riskier — to make a run for it and expose yourself as a target or stay still and hope the shooter tired of using you as target practice? The danger in staying was that if the shooter advanced and came to point-blank range, it would be certain death.
As these thoughts went through my head, another barrage of bullets hit the warning track five feet to my right. A staff member jumped up to try to climb the 20-foot fence just as Barth cried out, “I’m hit.” Within two to three seconds, the staffer cleared the chain-link fence, like Spider-Man in fast motion.
He and I crouched behind the oak tree. The question returned. Should we stay or should we go? Should we risk the run across the open field over two more chain-link fences, or should we remain behind the tree?
Shouts spread. The shooter was on the move. Though we could only catch glimpses of him, we could see congressmen and staffers shuffling and repositioning themselves behind the concrete bathroom, the cinder block dugout, and various cars.
Should we stay or should we go? We knew that we had two Capitol Police officers there, Rep. Scalise’s security detail. Were they already dead? We took about 10 seconds to deliberate, not exactly a pros and con debate but monosyllabic, “Run? Yeah . . .”
To escape, we had to leave the protective shadow of our oak and sprint across an open field. We would become targets again. As we jumped up to run, we heard the report of pistol fire from Capitol Police. The cavalry had arrived.
In the ensuing gunbattle, Special Agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey showed heroism above and beyond the call of duty. Advancing against the shooter, they were seriously outgunned in terms of firepower. The shooter had a long-range semiautomatic rifle, and the police only had handguns. The report of the pistols, though, was louder than the rifle and more explosive in sound.
Without the presence of these brave officers, both of whom were wounded in taking down the shooter, it would have been a massacre. They saved dozens of lives.
Later in the day, in the aftermath of a killing field, as I walk through the basement of the Capitol, a loud cart follows me, banging — BANG, banging at every bump. BANG, BANG but not really bang. Not really death impending, but death in verisimilitude — jarring, loud, and uninvited but not shooting or exploding.
Every passerby that didn’t smile — didn’t shoot. Didn’t shoot. For that I am grateful.
It’s unlikely they will shoot again. Be smart, look at the percentages. Of course, unlikely, very unlikely. A random event, nothing more.
Sitting alone near the end of the day, fortunate to savor or perhaps castigate the sun’s last rays, I feel the sun on my face. I want to deflect the sun’s gaze. I want to rebuke her for providing aid and abetting the sight lines in today’s killing field.
Aim, aim what is the aim. The rifle juts through the chain-link fence, spraying hate and blowing bone and muscle to bits in a show of nothing.
In the pause between gunshot and echo, in the seam of what may be, but is not yet, I hear my breathing return to normal.