When Vivianne Tu woke up on Wednesday morning to get ready for her internship with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), she could already hear the sirens.
Loud sirens aren’t all that unusual where Tu lives — her apartment is, after all, right next to George Washington University Hospital in downtown Washington, D.C. But this felt different.
“I immediately knew something bad happened,” Tu, a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, tells USA TODAY College. “The second I walk out the door, I get like three news alerts about the shooting … Everyone I know is interning with some congressman on the Hill. It could’ve been any one of our offices.”
This isn’t the internship experience Tu and her fellow college interns were expecting, or ever wanting, out of their time on Capitol Hill.
Shooting sparks concern, unity among Hill staffers
Washington is in shock after an Illinois man opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball team practice early Wednesday, wounding five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La) and Zack Barth, a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX). The shooter, identified as James Hodgkinson, 66, was killed in a shootout with police.
Interns say congressional staffs are shaken up and struggling to process the tragedy, though staffers and interns continued to work throughout the day, according to Tu.
Caitlin Reedy, a junior at the University of Michigan interning for Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), described the atmosphere at the Rayburn House Office Building this morning as “tense,” with everyone around her feeling “a little bit rattled.”
“There was a lot more security and police throughout the Capitol complex, and we all kept a close eye on the TVs to see how the story would progress,” Reedy says. “As we found out more about what happened at the baseball field and the conditions of the victims, the mood shifted away from anxious to one of concern and unity.”
As she walked to different offices on Wednesday afternoon to collect signatures for an unrelated letter, Reedy noticed that “every office, regardless of political party or state, had the news on and was following the story.”
“It helped remind me that everyone is here for the same purpose and there is a great level of respect and concern for all the other Hill staffers and congressmen,” Reedy says.
Former Scalise interns react to his critical injury
One group particularly shaken up by the shooting: Interns who have worked for Scalise, who was was shot in the hip and “remains in critical condition,” according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where he is being treated.
They describe their former boss as genuine and warm.
Mike Battiato, a junior at George Washington University, worked in Scalise’s office last semester after seeking an opportunity to “be a part of the legislative process.”
“Throughout my time in the office, the congressman was always friendly and nice with everyone,” Battiato tells USA TODAY College. “[He was] a pleasure to work for. … He works extremely hard for the American people and cares deeply about the issues and the future of our nation.”
Tori Wichman, a senior at Hillsdale College who interned for Scalise last summer, remembers his staff as extremely close and willing to go the extra mile for constituents. “They were like a family,” Wichman says. “They’re just one unit always striving to serve Steve Scalise.”
Wichman was connected with Scalise’s office through the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, where she worked concurrently as an intern focused on foster youth. While interning in D.C., she wrote policy intended to reduce child abuse in foster homes and presented her findings to Scalise in a one-on-one meeting.
“He seemed really sympathetic and that this was something that he really did want to be involved in, which meant a lot to me,” Wichman says. “And it meant a lot to me that he took me in as his intern to be able to learn from him and his staff.”
When Wichman heard that Scalise had been shot, she did not want to believe it. She started receiving a “flood” of texts from the interns she had worked with and says they were “shaken up and very distraught that this would happen to a person we loved working for.”
The targeting of the baseball practice struck Wichman as particularly distressing, as she attended the game last year and observed that it brought congressional members together. The game is still scheduled to take place as planned Thursday night.
“It’s just such a joyful competition where everyone from the House and the Senate unite, so to imagine them practicing for some kind of celebration [and have it] be ruined by violence is really sad,” Wichman says.
When something tragic happens to someone, Wichman says, people are inclined to say good things about them. But, she says, “I think every time someone talks about Steve Scalise, they naturally say good things because he truly is a genuine person who wants to do good for the community.”