On June 14, 2017, James Hodgkinson tried to kill Republican members of Congress as their baseball practice broke up. Today, just one month shy of the one year anniversary of that date, Buzzfeed has published a look back that morning which contains some striking detail. I’ve heard various tellings of how Rep. Steve Scalise was shot and went down before crawling into the outfield, but I hadn’t heard this story about what happened to lobbyist Matt Mika:
When the shooting started, Matt Mika started running toward the Capitol Police, who were parked about 20 feet from the first-base entrance. He ran for the open gate, just behind the first-base dugout, trying to get out, trying to get to the police, hoping to be helpful…
This is where Mika got hit. The bullet punctured his right lung, which collapsed, and went out his chest. He had three broken ribs, a cracked rib, a floating rib. The bullet hit his sternum. Missed his heart by less than half an inch. “7.62 is the bullet, that’s like an inch and a half — so that went through my chest.”
But Mika continued to run.
“We got outside the gate…turned around,” says Ryan Thompson, another staffer, “and Matt’s like, ‘Dude, I’ve been shot.’”
They told him to get down, to lie down behind the Capitol Police’s SUV. So he did. He lay down on the pavement. Special Agent Crystal Griner tried to protect him. She was engaging the shooter. She got shot in the ankle. He got shot again, too, in the arm.
It was hot inside his chest. His Detroit Tigers jersey was open, with blood all the way down. “I have a hole in my chest. Everyone can see my heart.”
Mika waited in that position for several minutes before paramedics arrived. By that time, he was on the verge of death. But amazingly, he remained conscious until help arrived and then all the way to the hospital which took nearly 15 more minutes. He tells Buzzfeed he was praying and also talking to his mother who had died a decade earlier from cancer. Doctors closed up his wounds and Mika began to heal so quickly that they nicknamed him “Wolverine.” Today, he’s about to play baseball a little, though his ribs are still healing. (The photo above is Mika throwing a pitch at a Minnesota Twins game last September.)
Despite the disaster that happened that morning, the people who were there can’t help but be amazed it wasn’t much worse. They look back and see a lot of little things that went their way which could easily have gone another way:
That the shooter never got a good shot into the dugout. That his first shot hit the fence, diverting the bullet’s path away from Rep. Trent Kelly who was standing directly in front of him, at third base. That he never thought to climb the announcer’s booth. That the pitchers weren’t there that day, instead of trapped in a batting cage. That Matt Mika was turning his body when the first bullet struck him, so it didn’t hit his heart. That Zack Barth could still run. That Dr. Brad Wenstrup didn’t leave early. That Richard Krimmer’s ambulance hit green lights the entire way to the field. That the gate next to third base — through which the shooter could’ve walked through right onto the field — was locked, another fact nearly everyone on the team credits with saving their lives.
“If it was just one thing, you could maybe call it a coincidence, but when you add them all up together, the only way you can explain it is that they were all miracles,” Scalise says.
And that’s leaving out the one thing most people say resulted in saving the most lives: The fact that Rep. Scalise was there with his armed security detail. Everyone who was there that morning praises the action of Capitol Hill Police Officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner for preventing the situation from being much worse.
Ultimately, the FBI refused to say the shooter had a political motive, though it’s clear to everyone who was on the field that day that he did:
The FBI briefed the players on their findings in the fall of last year. Several members were shocked they wouldn’t call the shooting politically motivated. Palmer ended up leaving after about a half hour.
“I think most people were really upset,” Palmer says. “I think I may have been the first one that really called them out, and then after I did everybody kind of piled on. I guess everybody was upset. Everybody knew that what they were saying was a crock. The guy had a list. He came there to shoot Republicans.”
He thinks they “misrepresented what happened because of concerns over the political fallout.”
“I felt like they blew it off.”
“They said, ‘So essentially this was suicide by cop.’ And we’re like, ‘Only?’ And I can tell you, I can buy that from what I saw at the end, where he walked out openly shooting,” Wenstrup says. “But let’s not kid ourselves here. You look at his website. He hates Republicans. He had the names of six Republicans in his pocket. He had — his social media is full of it. He camped out there for two months planning this, to kill Republicans. Did he hope to die at the end? Maybe.”
It’s not uncommon for mass shooters to attempt to kill themselves after an attack like this. His political motivation was obvious from a look at his social media activity. When he left home, he told his wife he was going to DC to “protest.” This was an attempted assassination of Republicans. The FBI’s failure to label it what it obviously was is one reason the story dropped out of the news so quickly. That and the fact that, incredibly, the only person who died that morning was the shooter.