Arizonans urge healing, unity after congressional shooting

Posted at 7:20 PM, Jun 14, 2017

A shooting targeting members of Congress playing baseball Wednesday, rattled Arizonans in the line of fire and spurred calls for increased political unity.

Senator Jeff Flake, R-AZ,  says he'll don a baseball uniform tomorrow night for the annual congressional game. He explained he'll be there because of the capitol police officers who saved his life.

Flake went to the hospital after the attack to visit with officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey.

"I believe he's [Bailey's] the one who brought the shooter down," Flake said. "He ran around for quite a while with a leg wound, returning fire."

Flake says the country is divided and encourages people to tone down their negative rhetoric. He admits he does not know if that's what led up to today's shooting but believes something has to change. 

"For every reason, we ought to be more civil and have better discourse between us," Flake said. "It's really gotten out of hand on all sides."

An Arizona State University student reporter, Noelle Lilley, 20, was in Virginia to interview Flake after his morning batting practice. By chance, the shooting started just after Lilley went back to her car to get forgotten equipment.

"At that point I saw the congressmen out in the field running scattered in different directions," Lilley said. "A jogger who had been nearby — someone who lives in the neighborhood — had called the police and they arrived in around five minutes."

The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Illinois, is now dead. 

He posted on Facebook earlier this year about a desire to "destroy Trump & Co."  In a time where many people are making social media posts with strong political rhetoric, Arizona law enforcement officials are urging everyone to be on the lookout for things that are not normal.

"If you see something, a political post, that's maybe threatening somebody,  that's the type of stuff that you need to let us know about, so we can follow up," said DPS Trooper Kameron Lee, a spokesman for the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center.

Lee added the center relies on citizen tips to launch investigations, and he says center staff does not randomly troll social media for political threats. 

Tipsters can go to the ACTICwebsite or contact any local or national law enforcement agency.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, who now holds Gabby Giffords seat, says she has received threats, but she says members of Congress can not let security concerns stop their work.

Flake thought back to 2011 when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson. 

"Waiting there in the hospital for news of how Gabby was doing, and doing the same thing for a good part of today," said Flake.

Flake said he received a phone call from President Obama following the shooting. He said they remembered what it was like in Tucson and hoped there could be a chance for unity.