WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill lawmakers honored five officers who took down an armed attacker at a Republican congressional baseball practice in June, a shooting that left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise critically wounded.
During the Thursday morning ceremony in the U.S. Capitol, the five officers, two of whom were themselves wounded in the June 14 attack, were repeatedly hailed as heroes who "ran toward the threat."
Scalise, who spent three months in the hospital but has since returned to work, embraced the officers both before the ceremony and after they'd been given the U.S. Capitol Police's highest honor for bravery, its Medal of Honor.
"When you look at the firepower that was coming at them, (the officers were) heavily outgunned, and yet they went towards the danger," Scalise said.
"These five brave men and women prevented what would’ve been a mass execution," he added.
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Capitol Police Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, who were assigned to Scalise's security detail that morning and were both wounded in the shooting, were honored alongside three officers from local suburban Alexandria, Virginia, police department — Nicole Battaglia, Alexander Jensen and Kevin Jobe — who rushed to the park after hearing reports of gunfire.
Scalise, R-Jefferson, was playing second base for the ball club, which was preparing for a charity match against their Democratic rivals the next night, when 66-year-old James Hodgkinson began spraying bullets at the team from just off the field.
One of Hodgkinson’s rifle rounds struck Scalise in the hip, ripping through bone and organs. A congressional aide, Zachary Barth, and a lobbyist, Matt Mika, were also shot. Bailey was wounded by flying bullet fragments.
“Before I start tearing up … I’m here today because of the heroism of these brave men and women,” Scalise said. “Thank you so much for your sacrifice, for putting your lives on the line and it’s great to see you all back here.”
Top Capitol Hill lawmakers, like Scalise, repeatedly credited those five officers with preventing a bloodbath on the ball field after Hodgkinson, heavily armed gunman and apparently motivated by a hatred of Republican politicians, opened fire at the practice.
The officers "met the call of duty under the most horrific of circumstances," said Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate. He described the officers' actions as "heroism personified."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said those gathered need only look at the crutch-holding Louisiana congressman to see the impact of the officers' actions.
"It's so great to see Steve Scalise here today," McConnell said.
Scalise, walking with a pair of purple crutches, embraced both Griner and Bailey before and after the ceremony. The two special agents, Scalise said, have been "like family." Members of congressional leadership — like Scalise, the No. 3 Republican in the House — are assigned security details that shadow them throughout their days.
Griner, who's still recovering from being shot, used a cane as she walked about the auditorium in the U.S. Capitol. Scalise said he's pleased to see her moving without a walking boot and said he's been inspired by her progress.
Afterward, Scalise remained effusive in his gratitude to the officers and said he’s continuing to “push as hard as I can” in his recovery. But he also admitted some frustrations with the lasting limitations the shooting has left him with.
“Obviously I love playing baseball, basketball, tennis,” Scalise said, “and I can’t do that. Hopefully I will be able to get to that point.
“I’m learning how to walk again. I’ll hopefully be able to walk without crutches one day — but I’d like to run again, too, and we’re not sure if that’ll happen.”