Ninth District U.S. Rep. Doug Collins was not at a congressional baseball practice just outside Washington where several people were shot Wednesday morning.
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was among those hit by the shots from a rifle-wielding gunman in Alexandria, Va. The shooter, identified as Illinois man James. T. Hodgkinson, has died. Read updates from the Associated Press.
Collins said he had talked to a few of his colleagues at the Capitol gym before they went to the field to practice.
“I don’t know any specifics on what drove this person to do this this morning,” he said. “All I do know is that it’s not normal; it’s not rational. It’s just pure evil.”
He was in a men’s Bible study meeting at his Capitol Hill office with three other congressmen when one of his staff told him about the attack, Collins said.
He credited Capitol Police with saving lives at the practice field and said it was an act of providence that Scalise, whose Capitol Police security detail fired on the shooter, was at the field.
“That was what saved them,” Collins said. “Most people don’t realize that we don’t go around with a security detail. Our top three do, but the rest of us do not. We just have to take normal precautions as anyone else would.”
As the vice chair of the House Republican Conference, Collins is the fifth-ranking Republican in the House behind Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. Directly above Rodgers in the hierarchy is Scalise.
Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, both Republicans, are also safe after the shooting. Isakson issued a statement thanking Capitol Police, and Perdue, who was appearing on Fox News at the time, took to Twitter to signal that he and his staff were unharmed Wednesday morning.
Isakson thanked Capitol Police and first responders for saving lives on Wednesday.
“Steve Scalise is a great friend, and I am praying for him, our Capitol Police officers, the staff members and all those involved in today’s terrible attack,” Isakson said in a statement. “I hope that all Americans will join me in condemning this senseless act of violence against innocent lives.”
The attack is bound to raise questions about security around members of Congress, Collins said, especially around regular events attended by multiple members like Wednesday’s baseball practice. But he didn’t call for tighter security.
“I think in general it’s hard to deal with,” he said. “We’re a free and open society. People can come and go. I think this was an interesting time — you did have a lot of members in one place at one time, both Democrats and Republicans.”
Collin’s Gainesville district office receives a handful of threats each year, about two or three of which each quarter are credible enough to forward to law enforcement, according to Collins.
The representative himself and his daughter were threatened in 2015 by a Lavonia woman with a history of mental illness, who was eventually jailed because of the threat.
Collins said he hopes Congress moves forward with its business despite the morning attack.
“The worst thing that we could do right now is stop,” he said. “The worst thing we could do right now is not continue to do the people’s business.”
Associated Press reports contributed to this story.