The odd violence of gunman’s past
His simmering anger contributed to long record of arrests
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.