Former Mayor Bill Euille of Alexandria, Virginia was making his way to the city’s YMCA for his ritualistic morning workout Wednesday when his cell phone lit up with text messages from friends asking if he was all right.
“They said, there was an active shooting incident in the 400 block of East Monroe,” Euille said. “I said, ‘That’s the Y!’”
Euille, whose city rarely makes headlines for gun fatalities, found himself pulled to the surreal scene of a near-massacre of some two dozen members of the Republican congressional baseball team, who miraculously escaped a barrage of bullets with their lives. Then he got a text from a YMCA staffer.
“He says, ‘Hey Bill, you and I know the shooter.’”
It was James Hodgkinson, the same unidentified fellow with whom Euille had shared pleasantries for weeks while sipping coffee in the YMCA’s lobby. “He said, ‘You had your coffee. He had his coffee. You had your newspaper. He had his laptop.’”
Euille said he was overcome with “total shock. I would never have expected this of him.”
Indeed, Euille learned, Hodgkinson had stopped by the Y briefly that morning before heading across the street to the ball field where Republicans were practicing for Thursday night’s annual showdown with Democrats, toting a high-powered rifle. Bullets ripped apart windows at the YMCA.
Euille said he was accustomed, as a 20-year member of the YMCA, to encountering folks who came and went and that Hodgkinson came off as “very respectable” and “very rational.”
“He always called me, ‘Mr. Mayor.’ I was probably the only person that he had direct conversation with on a daily basis.”
He said Hodgkinson was “very polite, engaging when he wanted to be.”
Euille said he even went on a website with Hodgkinson one day to try to help him find work.
After a few weeks, Euille said, he realized that Hodgkinson never was doing a workout and that he apparently had joined the YMCA to use its sauna and shower. One day, he said, he glanced at Hodgkinson’s open gym bag and was puzzled.
“All of your life’s possessions in your gym bag?” he said. “He had books, other things that you just don’t carry in your gym bag.”
However, the two never talked politics, the subject that apparently was burning in Hodgkinson’s mind.
“I never learned until today that he was a Bernie Sanders supporter,” the former mayor said, referring to the left-wing presidential candidate who lost to Hillary Clinton in last year’s Democratic primaries.
“I’m glad I never rubbed him the wrong way, and we never got into a political dialogue,” Euille said, noting that he campaigned for Clinton. “Obviously, he had some grudge, and something inside of him.”
Euille said he had come to realize, after making a few casual inquiries a couple of years ago, that some members of Congress were showering at the YMCA after practice. So they had been coming and going while Hodgkinson sat in the lobby, he said.
Euille said he learned later that Hodgkinson had wandered over to the practice field a few days ago and asked whether the team members were Democrats or Republicans.
“To try to visualize why did he’d do this, and what caused him to do this,” he said, his voice drifting off. “But I understand from websites back home, oh yeah, here’s a guy who was mad.”