Politics & Government

Is the congressman shot by a Belleville man ready to forgive? ‘I’m not quite there yet.’

A little less than two years ago, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana was on a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, practicing with his fellow Republicans a day before the annual congressional baseball game. As they played, a man from the metro-east opened gunfire and wounded four people including Scalise who had been standing at second base.

The bullet struck Scalise’s hip and cut through his body, damaging organs and broking bones.

Scalise had to be airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.

Now 22 months after the shooting, Scalise is scheduled to come to the Collinsville to speak at the annual congressional prayer breakfast about the shooting, his recovery and his faith. The venue is a 20-minute drive from where congressional shooter James Hodgkinson last lived.

Scalise who is Catholic, says his faith helped him in his recovery, but says he hasn’t yet forgiven the gunman, who died in the shooting.

“I know I’m going to have to come to a point where I do forgive him ... I’m not quite there yet,” Scalise said. “It’s something I’m going to have to struggle with, but at least I’ve been able to not dwell on what happen and not have that hold me back from staying focus on the things that I’m able to do.”

Scalise, who wrote a book about the shooting titled “Back in the Game,” goes through physical therapy twice a week with the goal of being able to walk without crutches by the end of this year.

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., walks speak with reporters after a meeting with President Donald Trump on border security at the White House, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Evan Vucci AP

He has able to move on past the emotional scars of June 14, 2017.

“(There are) everyday reminders in my limitations — walking on crutches, not having some movement in my left leg, and the things I’ve got to do to get better,” Scalise said. “I’ve been able to focus my energy on getting better and not dwelling on the past.”

Davis saw Scalise on the ground

Among the people Scalise shares a post-shooting bond with is U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. Davis was at bat when Hodgskinson opened fire on the Republican team.

Davis was able to run for cover and escaped without physical harm, but he did see Scalise lying in the field and thought he was dead.

“It sent chills up and down my spine ... and seeing Steve on the ground made everything seem surreal to me that morning while it was happening,” Davis said.

Davis read Scalise’s book during a flight from St. Louis to Washington D.C. The book includes the perspectives of members of Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail Crystal Griner and David Bailey, U.S. Rep. Brad Westrup, a former army surgeon, and other police and paramedics who played a role in saving his life.

“(It) brought back many memories for me, brought back many sounds, smells that morning it was also good to see his perspective,” Davis said. “That’s where I think … we, who were on that field, all have our story of what happened to us, and it’s always is helpful to hear the perspective of others who were there that day and then bring it all together and credit God for saving us all.”

Davis said the shooting helped create a bond among the baseball team members as colleagues.

“I will tell you there are times we’re sitting in a room and doing panel discussions together, and we introduced ourselves as friends … somebody will ask a question about what is something you remember most about your career or your time here, and one of us will inevitably talk about that morning and the need for civility, and somebody who think it would be OK to try and kill us,” Davis said.

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Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, left, talks with Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, after warming up for the 57th Congressional Baseball Game at National’s Park in Washington, Thursday, June 14, 2018. On June 14, 2017, Scalise was shot at the baseball field he and some other members of Congress were practicing on in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) Cliff Owen AP

Davis said everyone on the team was blessed that day and credited the Capital Police for taking down the gunman. He also credited a fellow congressman with medical training and was on the field. Other first responders also helped treat those who were wounded.

“A lot of folks will credit that to coincidence, I credit it to blessings from God,” Davis said. “Hearing Steve’s testimony of his recovery when he immediately came to the House for the first time and told the world what it was like, I’m sure it was cathartic not just I’m sure for him but also for me, but also many of my teammates who were there that morning to know what he went through to hear his story.”

A roommate from Collinsville

Scalise is coming to the Congressional Prayer Breakfast in Collinsville at the request of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. The two representatives are roommates in Washington, D.C.

“I’m going to talk about how faith has played such a strong role in my life and especially how it has impacted me through the recovery after the shooting, and how it helped give me strength through those tough times,” Scalise said.

He added that he remains grateful to those who prayed for him.

Shimkus said Scalise’s condition was up and down in the weeks after the shooting.

“Because we were roommates … we were fortunate, or unfortunate, to have a little more access than most members, but we had to keep things quiet,” Shimkus said.

Shimkus said he’s excited to hear Scalise share his story and called Scalise’s book heart wrenching. He teared up while describing it.

“Even in the darkest hours, my faith was the thing that gave me strength to keep moving forward and to focus on keep getting better, Scalise said. “That was the most important thing, it allowed me to put all my energy into getting better as opposed to dwelling on the negative things that had happened.”

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House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., flanked by Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, left, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., right, renewed his criticism of the Democratic leadership for not stripping Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee in the wake of anti-semitism accusations, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite AP

Scalise said he has no plans to reach out to Hodgkinson’s widow.

He doesn’t try to figure out why the gunman carried out the shooting.

“It’s hard to get in the head of somebody that would think it’s OK to try to hurt other people, especially in a country like America where we celebrate our freedom,” Scalise said. “Freedom of speech is so fundamental to who we are as a people, and to see somebody want to kill somebody else just because you disagree with their political views goes against everything our country is based upon.

“You see that in political discourse today still, where some people that try to hurt other people, threaten and bully other people because you have a political disagreement,” Scalise continued. “I try to encourage other people to change the discourse and to keep a more civil tone and anytime I see somebody, whether it’s an elected official or an activist trying to incite violence against other people based on their political views I speak out against it very loudly, because I think it’s dangerous to try to incite violence and it still happens.”

To attend

The Congressional Prayer Breakfast, the event is scheduled for 7 a.m. April 29 at the Gateway Center in Collinsville. For information on purchasing tickets to the event call 618-463-6850. Individual tickets are $25 each. A table of eight seats costs $200.