U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk was standing near home plate on Wednesday morning as the GOP baseball team kicked off its final practice before the annual bipartisan charity game.
The second-term lawmaker from Cassville was one of the Republican team's designated hitters, and after spending some time warming up at the batting cages in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., he was ready to slug. He was getting ready to bat when gunshots were fired from the direction of third base, kicking off a traumatizing scene that quickly reverberated across Capitol Hill and the entire country.
“The shooter walked up to the fence and started shooting at us, so we all started running," Loudermilk recounted in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That's when (House Majority Whip Steve Scalise) was hit, as he was turning to go."
"There was dirt flying up around my feet as I was running. He was targeting us," Loudermilk said of the shooter.
Loudermilk hid from the gunman, believed to be Illinois resident James Hodgkinson, behind a wooden shack. He said he was about 10 feet away from a Capitol Police SUV and a victim suffering from a gunshot wound.
“I kept trying to get to him but every time I tried, the perpetrator had moved over to our side and would start shooting in that direction,' Loudermilk said. "He had us pinned down.”
Also: Listen to Barry Loudermilk's extended interview with WSB Radio's Jamie Dupree here:
A veteran who conducted intelligence work for the Air Force before entering politics, Loudermilk had been trained for moments like those, but he never had to put his training to use during his eight years in the military.
Throughout Wednesday's events, Loudermilk said his focus was "keeping cool, calm and staying where I could try to help people to safety." He left the scene uninjured.
President Donald Trump later announced that the gunman had been killed, but he did not identify him. Multiple news outlets reported that Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old former Bernie Sanders volunteer who had posted profane comments about 6th District Republican Karen Handel on social media, was the shooter.
After having a few hours to digest Wednesday's shooting, Loudermilk said he felt "a lot of anger."
"There has to be a coming together in this nation. There’s a lot blame, I believe, and rhetoric out there that’s pitting one side against the other," he said.
Loudermilk said the two political parties need to work harder to have more civil political debates, rather than ones that can drive "people who are already somewhat unstable to commit violence."
What's not needed, the lawmaker said, are more gun control laws. He suggested that if the shooting had happened in Georgia, where there are more statutes on the books maintaining access to firearms, there would have been fewer victims.
“If this would have happened in Georgia and we would have been able to defend ourselves, we wouldn’t have as many people in the hospital right now,” Loudermilk said. He repeatedly commended the Capitol Police officers who were part of Scalise's security detail and fought back against the shooter on Wednesday.
“If we hadn’t had those policemen out there it would have been a massacre,” he said. “God was there protecting us.”