The odd vi­o­lence of gun­man’s past

His sim­mer­ing anger contributed to long record of ar­rests

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Aamer Mad­hani USA TO­DAY

Long record of ar­rests punc­tu­ated by sim­mer­ing anger,

The 66-yearold Illi­nois man who fired on Repub­li­can law­mak­ers and their aides at a North­ern Vir­ginia base­ball di­a­mond was a liv­ing por­trait of sim­mer­ing anger and some­times strange be­hav­ior, neigh­bors and family mem­bers said.

Sue Hodgkin­son, the wife of gun­man James Hodgkin­son, said Thurs­day that her hus­band sold ev­ery­thing he owned from his home in­spec­tion busi­ness this year be­fore trav­el­ing to Wash­ing­ton. She said he told her he was go­ing “to work with peo­ple to change the tax brack­ets.”

“I had no idea this was go­ing to hap­pen,” she said. “I don’t know what to say about it. I can’t wrap my head around it, OK?”

In the more than three years since his son mar­ried James Hodgkin­son’s daugh­ter, Doug Knep­per shared only a few faceto-face in­ter­ac­tions with the sus­pect. Yet Knep­per quickly gleaned that his son’s fa­ther-in-law held strong po­lit­i­cal pref­er­ences.

Dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Hodgkin­son kept a sign in his front lawn show­ing his sup­port for Sen. Bernie San­ders’ run for the White House and was a vol­un­teer for the cam­paign.

Though Face­book post­ings show Hodgkin­son was hos­tile to­ward Pres­i­dent Trump, Knep­per said Hodgkin­son wasn’t a fan of Barack Obama ei­ther. (He did of­fer sup­port for Obama in let­ters to the ed­i­tor of the lo­cal news­pa­per.)

Hodgkin­son let Knep­per’s son, Matt, an Army sol­dier, know he wasn’t a fan of the mil­i­tary, Knep­per said. “He saw the mil­i­tary as part of the prob­lem, part of the sys­tem,” Knep­per told USA TO­DAY.

Knep­per re­counted how Hodgkin­son crossed into his per­sonal space dur­ing the hand­ful of times he and his wife vis­ited.

“He comes up to me and says, ‘The bugs are bad here,’ ” re­called Knep­per, demon­strat­ing how Hodgkin­son placed him­self inches from his face and of­fered the odd greet­ing. “It was like he was try­ing to do some alpha-male thing.”

Au­thor­i­ties dug into Hodgkin­son’s past, try­ing to de­ter­mine what mo­ti­vated him to open fire at the Alexan­dria ball­park, leav­ing Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., crit­i­cally in­jured and wound­ing Capi­tol Hill of­fi­cers Crys­tal Griner and David Bai­ley, as well as House staff aide Zach Barth and Tyson Foods lob­by­ist Matt Mika. Hodgkin­son died from gun­shot wounds when of­fi­cers re­turned fire.

Hodgkin­son’s so­cial me­dia and on­line post­ings in­cluded an­gry and men­ac­ing com­ments about Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing a Face­book post March 22 in which he wrote, “Trump Has De­stroyed Our Democ­racy. It’s Time to De­stroy Trump & Co.”

He was out­spo­ken in other fo­rums, writ­ing to the lo­cal news­pa­per about his op­po­si­tion to Repub­li­can poli­cies and con­tact­ing the of­fice of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., at least 10 times over the past year to ex­press his op­po­si­tion to the Repub­li­can agenda. He at­tended an Oc­cupy Wall Street protest in 2011 in St. Louis, rail­ing to a tele­vi­sion re­porter about grow­ing in­come in­equal­ity. “The 99% are get­ting pushed around, and the 1% are just not giv­ing a damn,” Hodgkin­son told KTVI-TV.

Hodgkin­son car­ried a long record of ar­rests on var­i­ous mis­de­meanor charges dat­ing back to 1988, ac­cord­ing to St. Clair County, Ill., Cir­cuit Court records. The in­frac­tions in­cluded mi­nor driv­ing of­fenses, re­peated fail­ures to ob­tain work per­mits, bat­tery and driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence.

In April 2006, he was ar­rested on charges of bat­tery, do­mes­tic bat­tery and dis­charg­ing a firearm af­ter he was ac­cused of as­sault­ing his fos­ter daugh­ter and two friends, ac­cord­ing to court records.

He was ac­cused of bat­ter­ing his daugh­ter, pulling her hair and hit­ting her. He al­legedly punched a fe­male friend of his daugh­ter in the face “with a closed fist” and struck the woman’s boyfriend in the head with the stock of his shot­gun be­fore fir­ing a round as the young man ran away. No one was struck by the gun­fire in the dis­pute, which started over Hodgkin­son want­ing his daugh­ter to come home.

Court records show he al­legedly cut the front pas­sen­ger seat belt of the fe­male friend’s car in an ef­fort to drag his daugh­ter out of the car. The charges were dis­missed.

Kevin Ku­bitschek, a Belleville at­tor­ney who rep­re­sented Hodgkin­son in a court case in 2009, said Hodgkin­son could come off as “a lit­tle brusque and a lit­tle cocky.” Ku­bitschek, who had known Hodgkin­son since both at­tended high school in Belleville in the late 1960s, said there was noth­ing about his in­fre­quent in­ter­ac­tions with him that he found alarm­ing.

In 1996, an­other fos­ter child liv­ing with him and his wife killed her­self at 17, ac­cord­ing to the

Belleville News-Demo­crat. The daugh­ter, Wanda Ashley Stock, doused her­self with gaso­line and set her­self on fire in­side a car.

Hodgkin­son and his wife were licensed fos­ter par­ents from 1990 and 2003, ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Family Ser­vices. The agency de­clined to pro­vide fur­ther com­ment about the Hod­kin­sons’ time as fos­ter par­ents be­cause of pri­vacy rules.

“With some of the other stuff, the tragedies that were hap­pen­ing in his life ... you can fall down a rab­bit hole,” Ku­bitschek said. “What makes the bub­ble burst?”

Po­lice came into con­tact with Hodgkin­son again March 24, when they were sum­moned to his home. His neigh­bor, Bill Schaum­l­ef­fel, had called to com­plain Hodgkin­son was en­gaged in tar­get prac­tice out­side his home.

Though Hodgkin­son hadn’t bro­ken any laws, he agreed with an of­fi­cer at the scene that it was prob­a­bly bet­ter to go to a range to use his gun, St. Clair County Sher­iff Richard Wat­son said.

Days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, neigh­bor Cheri Borsch said her son, Ja­cob, told po­lice some­one slashed three tires on his van and one tire on his fa­ther’s ve­hi­cle af­ter they put up a sign in sup­port of a family friend run­ning for St. Clair County cir­cuit clerk as a Repub­li­can. Ja­cob Borsch said: “You turn on the news to see this aw­ful tragedy. You’d never imag­ine that the ter­ror­ist is liv­ing right across your street.”


James Hodgkin­son was out­spo­ken in per­son and on­line.

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