YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – When a gunman opened fire on a Republican baseball practice Wednesday morning, timing may have made all the difference for one local Congressman.
Bill Johnson was at the early morning practice, along with about two dozen other Republican members of Congress.
“I left probably five minutes before, before everything happened,” Johnson said.
Members of the Ohio Congressional delegation had been practicing for the yearly charity ballgame between Democrats and Republicans, scheduled to take place on Thursday.
But on Wednesday, a shooter — identified by a government official as James T. Hodgkinson — opened fire, wounding House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, and several others.
The attacker fought a gun battle with police before he, too, was shot and later died.
About an hour after the shooting, Johnson confirmed to WKBN that he had been at the practice session. He left the field just after 7 a.m. because he had a meeting to attend on Capitol Hill.
He learned about the shooting when he got to his office and remembered something unusual he saw as he was driving away from the field.
“I was leaving the complex and I had pulled out into the street that parallels the parking lot there at the baseball complex. There was a white male, who was very lethargically, slowly getting in and out of his van parked on the street,” Johnson said.
He said he never spoke to the man or saw any weapons. Still, the coincidence caused him to report the incident to Capitol Police as part of their investigation.
At about the same time as the shooting, local Congressman Tim Ryan was practicing with his Democratic teammates at another field in northeastern Washington, D.C. When they heard about what happened across town, they took shelter until police could escort them to safety.
“It was shocking to sit there and think, because you’re on a baseball field. Every American knows what that means. You’re wide open and to think that someone’s shooting people playing baseball, you know, it’s just sitting ducks,” Ryan said.
He released a statement on the shooting, saying he was “sickened” by it. He added that his thoughts and prayers are with Steve Scalise, Capitol Police officers, and a Congressional staffer — all injured in the shooting.
Johnson said the shooting made him stop and think of what could have happened if he’d been there just a few minutes longer.
“Maybe it’s the military guy in me, I’m having mixed emotions. One side of me is very grateful that I avoided the shooting and that I was not present. The other side of me — the military side — says, you know, I’ve got that guilty feeling that I should have been there to help my guys out.”
Both lawmakers had high praise for Capitol Police — two of them serving on Scalise’s security detail — for quickly taking down the shooter, saying if not for those officers, many more people could have been shot or killed.
As for moving past Wednesday’s shooting, Johnson said lawmakers need to continue standing for their principals.
“Steve Scalise — who I have tremendous respect for — would be one of the first to tell you, we don’t cower in the corner from these kinds of incidences. We come out and we make the nation better for it.”