Bill Schaumleffel was enjoying an early spring day with his grandchildren, ages 3 and 6, when a man stepped out of a grove of trees and began firing what appeared to be a high-powered rifle.
Because this was a quiet residential area a few miles from Belleville West High School, Schaumleffel was immediately concerned.
“He just stepped out of the pines. He had a gun he shouldered and fired some rounds into the woods,” Schaumleffel said.
The man was too far off to make out in great detail, he said, but he saw a man, later identified as James T. Hodgkinson, emerge from behind a pole barn, holding what appeared to be a high-powered rifle.
“These were really loud shots and I saw he had a gun on his shoulder, then he fired some more shots towards the woods in the corner ... I yelled then, ‘There are houses over there. Quit shooting.’” Schaumleffel said.
But the shooting didn’t stop.
Schaumleffel told his wife to take their grandchildren inside the house. He called the sheriff’s department.
A St. Clair County sheriff’s report from March 24 stated a caller said there were more than 50 shots fired.
Deputies noted that Hodgkinson had a valid Illinois Firearm Owner’s Identification Card. They warned him not to fire guns around his home and left.
Schaumleffel said that he didn’t know Hodgkinson, had never seen him before or after March 24. That is, until he saw him on the television news on Wednesday morning, reporting that Hodgkinson was the man who fired on a congressional baseball practice in Arlington, Va., striking Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the Republican whip from Louisiana, a staffer and two Capitol police officers. Hodgkinson died of his wounds after being shot by police.
Schaumleffel said it was Hodgkinson, the man who lived in the home neighbors called “the chicken house” because it resembled a chicken coop from the outside, that fired the shots on March 24. Hodgkinson had a sign in the front yard advertising his home inspection business. Three weeks ago, Schaumleffel said there was Harley Davidson motorcycle for sale in the front yard of the home that faces Frank Scott Parkway.
“I didn’t know him at all. Nobody around here knew him. He didn’t associate with anyone,” Schaumleffel said.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson declined to comment on the FBI’s investigation but said sheriff’s deputies had responded to Hodgkinson’s home on March 24. He said the rifle he was firing at the time was not the same gun used in the congressional shooting Wednesday.
Watson said Hodgkinson had a valid Firearm Owners Identification card and said it was legal to fire his weapon in a rural area. A sheriff’s deputy explained the safety risks and Watson said neighbors had not complained since late March.
When asked for his reaction to the shooting, Watson said, “You can have a difference of opinion, but you do not shoot people over a difference of opinion.”