BELLEVILLE, Ill. -- An Illinois man who shot a GOP congressman Wednesday morning in Virginia was described as "an angry little man" with "a chip on his shoulder" by a lawyer who represented him in past legal trouble.
The man identified as the gunman in Virginia, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, was killed in a shootout with officers, including Capitol police protecting congressmen at a baseball practice field Wednesday morning.
"He was right and you were wrong," Lyndon Evanko, a retired Belleville attorney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday. "To him there was no gray area."
That's a view borne out by posts to two Facebook accounts under Hodgkinson's name. They show a constant stream of political comments and expressions of outrage, mostly at Republicans. They date back years and run until a post Tuesday morning about the undue influence of corporations in government.
Still, Evanko said, the shootings came as a shock: "Nothing about (Hodgkinson) would lead me to believe he would do something like this."
A neighbor of Hodgkinson who said he knew the man since they were kids also expressed sorrow and surprise. The neighbor, Dale Walsh, said he knew Hodgkinson by his middle name, Thomas, or Tommy. He said Hodgkinson "always stood up for himself," but that he never seemed unusually violent.
But some of Hodgkinson's brushes with the law seemed to stem with interactions with neighbors. One woman who long lived near Hodgkinson described him as "one of the worst humans ever." She said she had multiple confrontations with him over the years.
"We are all not surprised by what he did," Nicki Friedeck said. "He's a rotten human being."
As recently as March, Hodgkinson was the subject of a complaint that he was firing shots too close to the homes of neighbors in an unincorporated area south of Belleville West High School, according to police records.
Deputies went to the home of Hodgkinson 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 hunting rifle, 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.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said Hodgkinson was "cordial."
Less than three months later, Hodgkinson apparently opened fire at the congressional baseball practice in a Virginia suburb of Washington. Watson said he doubted the gun from the March incident, which he described as a deer rifle, had any connection to the D.C.-area shooting.
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."
Walsh, the neighbor who said he had long known Hodgkinson, told reporters he was shaken up.
"It's got me upset, I'm shaking right now ... that he did this," said Walsh, 65. "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."
The rifle-shooting incident was just the most recent of several brushes Hodgkinson had with police, including a bizarre domestic incident 11 years earlier that resulted in charges of battery and damaging a motor vehicle.
The incident apparently was part of a dispute involving a teen relative for whom Hodgkinson and his wife, Suzanne, had been appointed guardians. The dispute somehow came to involve a neighbor and his girlfriend.
Court records say Hodgkinson punched the neighbor's girlfriend on the evening of April 1, 2006. The neighbor then 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 teenage girl was inside the neighboring home, and Hodgkinson forced his way into the home and assaulted the teen, telling her to "get her stuff" and that it was "time to come home," according to records. The teen and neighbor tried to escape in the neighbor's car, but Hodgkinson forced his way into the car, cut the teen's seat belt with a pocket knife, and began choking her, according to a police report.
At that point, the neighbor's girlfriend told police, Hodgkinson's wife also tried dragging the teen out of the vehicle, saying, "I'll just call the police and put you back into foster care," according to the report.
Police said they found the teen girl'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.
A judge later returned the teen to the custody of the Illinois Division of Children and Family Services and awarded guardianship to Friedeck, who lived near the Hodgkinsons at the time. Friedeck later adopted the girl.
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 when the victims failed to appear in court.
Friedeck, who now lives in Colorado, said she recalls multiple incidents involving Hodgkinson mistreating neighborhood animals. She said the teenage girl she eventually adopted was poorly treated while the Hodgkinsons were her guardians. She called him "one of the worst humans ever."
The teen Friedeck adopted after the Hodgkinsons lost guardianship died in 2015, as an adult, of a heroin overdose, Friedeck said.
The Belleville News Democrat reported that another girl the Hodgkinsons had fostered, Wanda Ashley Stock, killed herself at 17 by setting herself on fire inside her car in 1996.
Hodgkinson had several other encounters with police, dating to the 1980s.
In May of 2011, he was ticketed for failure to give notice of an accident and improper lane usage.
On New Year's Eve in 1992, Illinois State Police arrested Hodgkinson on suspicion of driving under the influence. He served one year of probation and the case was dismissed in February 1995 after he paid about $500 in fines.
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 in that case.
Two Facebook pages appeared to belong to Hodgkinson. After Hodgkinson was identified as the shooter Wednesday morning, people began showering the pages with vitriolic comments. The profiles were gone by noon, with Facebook saying they were removed for violating the site's community standards.
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.
"The other Facebook page 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."
His posts Monday were against closed primaries, which is "what third world countries have," and against the president, "truly the biggest (expletive) we have ever had in the Oval Office." He added: "Make America Great Again, Resign!"
The Facebook pages indicated that he was a member of several groups, including "Liberal Democratic Socialist Party," a group called "I Hate Donald Trump," one called "Permanent Revolution: The Anti-Clintoncrat Movement" and another called "Investigation of Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election."
Both Facebook pages say he attended Belleville West High School and Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. A spokesman for the university said 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.
"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 lived in the congressional district of Republican Rep. Mike Bost. The congressman said Hodgkinson had contacted his office about 10 times in the last year about various issues of disagreement. Bost said none of them raised any red flags.
"He never was, in any of his communications, over-the-top enough to contact Capitol Police," Bost told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You have people who disagree with you, that's part of this job."
Hodgkinson had also contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to give his opinion on legislation, according to a spokesman.
A neighbor of Hodgkinson said the only indication of Hodgkinson's politics he got was when he saw Bernie Sanders signs in his yard last year.
"I never talk politics with him," Fred Widel said. "We talked about septic tanks, that's about it."
Adam Kustra, 36, was Missouri political director for the Bernie Sanders campaign during last year's primary campaign. He remembers seeing Hodgkinson among volunteers who went to Iowa during the caucuses there.
"He was not one of the more active volunteers," said Kustra, of St. Louis. "Most of my recollection of him was kind of as an older guy who wasn't very physically well and couldn't very often volunteer."
Kustra called the shootings "horrible" and said Americans should be able to disagree without something like this happening.
"I couldn't think of anything more opposite (from) what Bernie's message was than what happened today," Kustra said. "Bernie's campaign was such a positive campaign."
Hodgkinson worked in the building trade and owned a home inspection business, though it wasn't clear whether the business is currently licensed.
For years he did lead remediation work through grants for St. Clair County, according to St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern. But in 2003, an employee found him rifling through a desk in the county's grants department. When she confronted him, he said he was looking for a check, Kern said. He got loud and was asked to leave.
He went downstairs to a bank in the building, where he got into another confrontation. He ended up barred from doing business with the grants office.
He returned in 2012 and requested paperwork to be reinstated, but that never happened, Kern said.
(Denise Hollinshed, Chuck Raasch, Kim Bell, Jeremy Kohler and Tony Messenger of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)
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