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Re-opening of Simpson baseball park following shooting postponed for weather

Law enforcement officers investigate the scene of a shooting near a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday, June 14, 2017, where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La. was shot at a Congressional baseball practice. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Less than a week ago, Simpson Field was a scene of carnage.

Now, it’s a place of hope and healing.

“Our prayer is for peace and unity to come forth out of this terrible event,” said Reverend Joyce DeFoor quietly.

For most of Monday, maintenance crews were out, sprucing up the stadium, in preparation for a much anticipated Alexandria Little League game.

The plan was to hold a quiet ceremony after the terrible rifle fire here last Wednesday, and to honor the police who put their own lives at risk to stop gunman James Hodgkinson.

“We can talk to our kids and they can understand the incident enough, and also go on and feel safe playing in our parks,” says the city’s Little League President Gus Chiarello. “They can rally around each other to make that happen.”

Here and there, are haunting reminders of the hail of gunfire unleashed by Hodgkinson during a Congressional baseball game practice Wednesday morning.

Police say the 66-year old Illinois small business owner, armed with a high-powered rifle and a 9MM handgun, critically wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, and injured five others.

Witnesses recalled hearing 30 to 50 rounds fired off in multiple bursts.

On Monday morning, after the scene had been cleared by the FBI, bullet holes could be found in a nearby maintenance shed, a grandstand bench, the metal fencing, and through a window of the YMCA nearby.

“You can hear the rifle fire, the sounds,” says John Gaines, who was out dog walking for a friend. “It's very haunting, like the Charlie Hebdo sounds from a few years ago in Paris. it came to us. It came to our town.”

At the YMCA, a plywood board covers the place where a single round went through two windows.

The ‘Y’ is now offering counseling to members and staffers.

“Clearly it was frightening, but we’re just focused on helping them heal, and try to get back to some sort of normalcy,” says Dana Rucker, a YMCA Spokesperson.

But this new normal is not easy after a gun battle on a ballfield.

“This has been a shocking time for our beloved city and country,” Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg told reporters. “And whether we live in Del Ray or another neighborhood in the city, our peaceful community became the latest in a long list of places to experience violence in the hands of a madman.”

Authorities say Hodgkinson called himself a Bernie Sanders supporter, who railed against conservatives and President Donald Trump.

Alexandria Police Chief Mike Brown credited US Capitol Special Agents David Bailey and Crystal Griner, with stopping Hodgkinson’s attack.

“I cannot emphasize the courage it must have taken those two officers to stop that initial engagement with that shooter,” Brown says. “Our hearts go out to them, our thanks go out to them.”

The Chief says at one point, Hodgkinson and the two officers, who were Scalise’s plainclothes security detail, retreated to ‘positions of cover, and were trading fire.’

Less than two minutes after an initial emergency call, just after 7 a.m., Alexandria Police Officers Kevin Jobe, Alexander Jensen, and Nicole Battaglia arrived at the scene.

“She immediately began taking fire from the suspect,” Brown says. “She jumped out of the car and without cover moved toward the firefight, to the point she was actually pinned down in the parking lot with a barrage of weapon fire from the shooter.”

The chief says he believes Battaglia diverted attention away from other officers, allowing them to get into a better position to return fire.

Which is what both the Capitol Police and Alexandria Police began doing.

Officer Jobe, a 16 year department veteran, moved closer to the gunfire, taking a position near Bailey and Griner.

Jensen was on the move as well.

“He positioned his cruiser so he could use it for cover and took out the department rifle. He engaged the subject at the same time,” Brown says.

The chief says both Jensen and Jobe, along with the Capitol officers, fired shots during an exchange of gunfire that went on for four minutes and 30 seconds, according to police records.

Finally, as Hodgkinson was moving in the area of the field’s home plate, he was fatally shot by the officers.

“The subject was taken down by officer fire from the officers engaged at the scene,” Brown says. ”You can’t teach the kind of courage and instinct that I saw from the three officers. That comes from within.”

Police confirmed Jensen, Battaglia and Jobe were put on administrative leave following the fatal shooting, which is routine procedure.

Because of Monday afternoon’s inclement weather, Little League and city officials decided to postpone the game until Tuesday.

And the ceremony so important to many.

“I want to reassure the public that we have a great response time, we have folks who’ve shown courage under fire, and we are incredibly blessed by community,” Silberberg says. “To the children and their families, we’re an incredibly peaceful, safe city.”

The mayor noted Wednesday night, hundreds of residents and city leaders marched down Mount Vernon Avenue together, in a walk of solidarity.

For Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, what happened at Simpson Field was personal.

He had played on that same space as a youngster.

“It’s got to get back to normal. We’ve got to move on in a sense. It means so much to us,” he says. “Because of where we live, we have to be resilient, we have to bounce back, to develop that coping mechanism.”

Perhaps that will start… or maybe continue Tuesday night.

“On behalf of a grateful city, and as the mayor, I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the US Capitol Police who bravely stemmed the tide of the gunfire, and our incredible Alexandria Police Department,” Silberberg says.

“All of us continue to keep the victims and their loved ones in our thoughts and prayers as we pray they will all make a full recovery,” she added.

On Saturday, crime scene tape was taken down around the fields and the YMCA and dog park reopened, as well as E. Monroe Ave.



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