ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Shots rang out in the quiet suburban neighborhood of Del Ray Wednesday morning as a gunman opened fire during a baseball practice for Republican members of Congress.
The horror that unfolded next not only had the nation scrambling for answers but stunned the cozy community located just eight miles outside the nation’s capital.
On Dewitt Street, yellow police tape blocked off the scene of the incident. Beyond the tape, fire trucks, first responders, ambulances and police cars stretched into the distance -- after parademics whisked away the wounded including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others.
The contrast was striking for a neighborhood, in the Alexandria area, that was just waking up when shots rang out.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom,” said Reba Winstead, who lives in the area, describing what she heard. Winstead was getting her daughter ready for school when “all of a sudden there was gunfire in our neighborhood.”
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was in the batting cage along the right-field line when the shooting started. Paul said he heard 50 to 60 rounds.
Two Capitol Police officers assigned to Scalise’s security detail started to shoot back at the suspect, identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson. The officers were injured along with an aide and a lobbyist.
Reports of violence are rare in tight-knit, upscale Del Ray. Independent restaurants, coffee shops and vintage boutiques line the main street. A quiet refuge from the capital, the neighborhood bustles in the evenings as families pushing strollers typically gather for large helpings of custard and pizza -- not to gawk at a crime scene.
The neighborhood where the shooting took place also has a basketball court, soccer field and a popular dog park. It shares a parking lot with the YMCA.
Former defense contractor and Alexandria resident Owen Britton was working out inside that YMCA when he heard the gunshots. Britton, talking to reporters shortly after the incident, said the suspect “was crouched behind a wooden structure exchanging fire with what I believed to be police officers who were hiding behind a black SUV. One was shooting over the engine block and another was lying down behind the SUV.”
Still in his workout clothes and with his headphones around his neck, Britton said one of the police officer’s rounds passed through the YMCA windows.
“Two rounds,” he said. “It hit the windows. One went through and landed in the pool. Another lodged between two panes of glass.”
Britton, who was huddled with about five others in the lobby of the YMCA, said everyone remained calm.
“No screaming, no crying, no yelling,” he said.
Back outside, it was a much different scene.
Katie Fillus had taken her dogs to the nearby park when she heard “very loud popping sounds.”
“Everybody started screaming, ‘Hit the ground! Hit the ground!’”
Down the street at the CVS, workers had locked themselves in.
When asked through the door if they were okay, a dark-haired woman replied “thank God, yes.”
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” said DeShawn Michael, who was heading to the YMCA at the time of the shooting. “Words can’t describe it,” he said, before lighting a cigarette and walking away.