WASHINGTON, June 14, 2017 - A Tyson Foods lobbyist and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., were among five people wounded when a gunman opened fire on a group of Republican lawmakers, including House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, who were practicing in surburban Virginia for the annual congressional baseball game. Conaway was unhurt.
Also wounded were Zach Barth, an aide to Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, and two Capitol police officers. The Tyson lobbyist was identified as Matt Mika, the company's director of government relations. Mika previously served as senior director of legislative affairs at the North American Meat Institute and as an aide to Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and other House emmbers.
In a statement, Tyson Foods said Mika was taken to a local hospital and that the company was awaiting word on his condition. "Matt has worked for Tyson Foods for more than six years and we're deeply concerned about him and his family." Mika is a former college baseball and football player who was helping coach the lawmakers, the company said.
A statement issued by Mika's family said he was listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit of a local hospital after undergoing surgery for his wounds. "Baseball is one of his great passions and he has always loved the congressional team," the statement said.
The alleged shooter was identified as James T. Hodgkinson, who had been a volunteer on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Sanders denounced the shooting as a "despicable act." Hodgkinson, of Belleville, Ill., was killed in a shootout with police.
“I was just thinking about what can we do to stop this? How can I help stop it, bring it to a halt?” Conaway told reporters when asked what went through his mind as he and other lawmakers tried to find cover after the shots erupted.
Conaway, R-Texas, found himself doing multiple media interviews during the day after he returned to the Capitol grounds, still in his Brownwood High School T-shirt with batting gloves stuffed in his jeans' back pocket. The shooting took place at a park in Alexandria, Va., where the lawmakers were practicing ahead of Thursday’s game at Nationals Park in Washington.
Capitol Police officers, who were accompanying Scalise, fatally shot the suspect. “Obviously if they had not been there this would have been a dramatically worse event,” Conaway said, echoing a sentiment repeated throughout the day by lawmakers who were there. It also helped, Conaway said, that the gate on the third base side of the practice field, from where the gunman fired, was locked.
Conaway, an Army veteran, said he heard more than 20 rounds from where he was behind a backstop. “This is the first time I’ve been shot at in anger,” Conaway said. The last time he was shot at was in basic training. “They’re not actually shooting at you, they’re shooting over your head,” he said.
He told reporters he considered the shooter a “lone rat,” not a “lone wolf.”
Conaway said it was too soon to know whether additional security measures are needed, but cautioned against overreacting. “There are 435 of us, 100 senators. You’ve got to be rational about how we approach these circumstances.”
Conaway, who played football at the legendary Permian High School in Odessa, Texas, fills various roles on the GOP team, including first base coach and pinch hitter, with some occasional outfield work, according to an aide.