UPDATED at 12:45 p.m. with domestic battery incident in 2006.
A St. Clair County man who shot a GOP congressman Wednesday morning in Virginia was the subject of a complaint in March that he was firing shots too close to the homes of neighbors, according to police records.
The man identified as the gunman in Virginia, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, was killed in a shootout with officers, including Capitol police protecting congressmen at a baseball practice field Wednesday morning.
Deputies went to the home of Hodgkinson, in an unincorporated area south of Belleville West High School, the afternoon of March 24, after homeowners on nearby Frank Scott Parkway West complained someone was firing shots in the area.
Deputies arrived at the home on Rolling Hills Lane and found Hodgkinson shooting a gun, which is permitted in the unincorporated area. Hodgkinson had proper licenses for his firearms, said St. Clair County Capt. Bruce Fleshren.
“He was just told not to shoot in the area close to the homes, but at the time there was nothing illegal about it,” Fleshren said.
Less than three months later, Hodgkinson apparently opened fire at the congressional baseball practice in a Virginia suburb of Washington.
Police and FBI agents descended on Hodgkinson’s house hours after the shooting Wednesday morning. The home on Rolling Hills Lane sits at the end of a gravel road, with a few other houses around it.
One neighbor walked to the end of the gravel road Wednesday morning to angrily confront reporters, telling them to get off the property, and declined to give any further information.
Apparently referring to the suspect’s wife, he said: “She’s got enough problems.”
A neighbor who said he knew Hodgkinson since they were kids expressed sorrow and surprise. The neighbor, Dale Walsh, said Hodgkinson “always stood up for himself,” but that he never seemed unusually violent.
“It’s got me upset, I’m shaking right now … that he did this,” said Walsh. “I don’t know why he did it, but apparently in his mind it was something he had to do, I guess.”
Walsh said he never talked about politics with Hodgkinson, but added: “The politics going on now is affecting a lot of people, and I guess he finally got to the end of his string. And he’s where he is right now. And he doesn’t have to worry about politics no more.”
But the shooting incident was just the most recent of several run-ins Hodgkinson had with police, including a bizarre domestic incident in 2006 that resulted in charges of battery and damaging a motor vehicle. Those charges were later dropped for unclear reasons.
The incident apparently began when Hodgkinson punched a neighbor’s girlfriend in the face as part of a domestic squabble that appeared to center on Hodgkinson’s daughter on the evening of April 1, 2006, according to court records. The neighbor went to Hodgkinson’s home about 5:45 p.m. to talk about it.
The neighbor told police Hodgkinson came out with a shotgun and aimed it at the neighbor’s face, according to court records. Hodgkinson hit the neighbor with the wooden stock of the gun as the neighbor tried to flee. As the neighbor ran, he heard a shot. It wasn’t clear if that was fired in the air or at the neighbor.
The neighbor’s girlfriend told police Hodgkinson’s daughter was inside her home, and that Hodgkinson forced his way into the home and assaulted his daughter, telling her to “get her stuff” and that it was “time to come home,” according to records. The daughter and neighbor tried to escape in the neighbor’s car, but Hodgkinson forced his way into the car, cut his daughter’s seat belt with a pocket knife, turned off the ignition and began choking her, according to a police report.
At that point, the neighbor’s girlfriend told police that Hodgkinson’s wife also tried dragging her daughter out of the vehicle, saying, “I’ll just call the police and put you back into foster care.”
Police said they found Hodgkinson’s daughter’s Belleville West sweatshirt was ripped and she had red marks on her right arm and the left side of her neck. They did not find any marks on the neighbors, according to a police report.
Officers found a 12-gauge shotgun in the kitchen and a small pocket knife in Hodgkinson’s pocket. Officers also found a spent 12-gauge shot gun casing near the front porch in the yard.
All of the charges stemming from the incident, which included two counts of battery with intent to cause bodily harm and damaging a motor vehicle, were dismissed in August 2006.
Hodgkinson had other arrests in his record, but the most serious were dismissed. Most of what remains are traffic tickets.
In May of 2011, he was ticketed for failure to give notice of an accident and improper lane usage. He was arrested in 1983 for criminal damage to property in East St. Louis as well as fleeing and eluding a police officer. Both those charges were dismissed, according to court records. Further details were not immediately available.
Political outrage online
Social media pages under Hodgkinson’s name show a constant stream of political comments and expressions of outrage at Republicans.
At least two pages using the James T. Hodgkinson name appeared linked to the St. Clair County man, though it could not immediately be confirmed they belong to the alleged shooter. After Hodgkinson was named as the shooter Wednesday morning, people began showering the pages with scores of comments. The pages were no longer available by noon.
The pages present Hodgkinson as a supporter of Bernie Sanders, Obamacare and Democratic Socialism, and an opponent of Republicans and Donald Trump. The pages have shared memes, articles and political cartoons criticizing and mocking the president.
In recent years, he weighed in on a variety of political issues, slamming Republicans at every turn.
One Facebook page uses Bernie Sanders as his cover photo. On March 22, he wrote: “Trump is a Traitor. Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” On the same page in August 2016, “I want Bernie to Win the White House.”
“Bernie is a Progressive, while Hillary is Republican Lite,” he wrote.
Another page using the Hodgkinson name features similar content. The most recent post on there was at 9:01 a.m. Tuesday, when he shared a meme featuring the bill from the animated short film series “Schoolhouse Rock.” A little boy asks, “HOW DOES A BILL WORK?” and the bill answers, “That’s an easy one, Billy. Corporations write the bill and then bribe congress until it becomes law.”
Hodgkinson chimed in with one simple phrase: “That’s exactly how it works … “
Both Facebook pages say he attended Belleville West High School and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.
A spokesman for the university said a James T. Hodgkinson took two classes at SIUE in the fall of 1971, transferring in from Southwestern Illinois College. He didn’t receive a degree at SIUE.
The spokesman said the date of birth they had on file was Dec. 12, 1950. That would match the age of the suspect in the shooting.
Hodgkinson wrote numerous letters to his hometown newspaper, The Belleville News-Democrat, over the years. A collection the paper posted from before the 2012 presidential election focused on the tax system, saying rich Americans were not paying their fair share.
Hodgkinson worked in the building trade and owned a home inspection business, though it wasn’t clear whether the business is currently licensed.
Bill Vollmer, a real estate developer from Freeburg, said he hired Hodgkinson about 20 years ago to do some framing for homes under construction. Hodgkinson worked for JTH Construction.
Vollmer said he was shocked when he heard Hodgkinson is the alleged shooter.
“He was just a typical home contractor, nothing out of the ordinary at all,” he said. “He did a good job for me.”
Vollmer said Hodgkinson was all business. “He never, ever expressed political views at all. He’d show up for work, get the work done and leave. I’m very surprised to hear this.”