Michelle Travous on Wednesday was working on the loading dock when she learned her uncle “Tom” was shot along with four other people near Washington, D.C. “I about hit the floor.”
On Thursday, Travous and her mother, Barbara Travous, the sister of James T. Hodgkinson, told FBI agents what they knew about him. After the two agents left, Michelle Travous talked to reporters from the News-Democrat as her mother stayed out of sight in another room.
The story told by the niece is that her uncle simply retired from work and decided to take a vacation in Washington, D.C. — much to the consternation of his sister. Barbara Travous described the capital city as “a nasty place.”
His reason for traveling to the nation’s capital? “I was under the impression he was going down there to protest,” Michelle Travous said.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Instead, James “Tom” Hodgkinson opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday. He critically wounded U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, and three others before U.S. Capitol Police fatally wounded him.
What happened was not his personality, by any means. I never saw this coming at all.
“What happened was not his personality, by any means. I never saw this coming at all,” she said.
Hodgkinson, 66, sold his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a few other possessions, packed his van and in late March drove to Washington. He lived in his vehicle and, at least for a time, acted like a tourist.
He lived out of the van, Travous said. He showered at a nearby YMCA. He took short trips. He opted to stay on the boardwalk and not pay to walk along the beach because it was too expensive, Travous said.
“He was just a regular guy,” she said.
Hodgkinson told relatives that he ate his Easter dinner at a restaurant buffet that served seafood and lobster.
Hodgkinson also joined the YMCA in Arlington, Va., leading to speculation that this is where he could have learned that members of Congress and their staff would be practicing Wednesday for the traditional Congressional Republicans versus Democrat charity baseball game that has been an annual fixture for more than a 100 years.
As the news and her uncle’s role in the shooting became clear, Michelle Travous said she could hardly believe what she saw on television. She said she learned through a phone call that her Aunt Suzanne had been told by her husband just a few days earlier that he was homesick. James T. Hodgkinson missed his dogs and family.
Hodgkinson had been planning on returning home on the day of the shooting, another friend of the family said Wednesday.
Michelle Hodgkinson said she was dimly aware of her uncle’s politics and believes he probably was a supporter of former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. She said she never heard him talk about President Donald Trump.
“He was definitely into his politics,” Travous said.
Hodgkinson left for Washington, D.C., sometime in March, according to Travous. The trip came just days after the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department investigated a report that Hodgkinson fired 50 shots from a high-powered rifle behind his house in west Belleville.
He was doing so legally, had a valid firearm owner’s ID, so was just asked to stop shooting.