WILKES-BARRE — For the first year since he was elected to Congress in 2010, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta opted out of the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
So Barletta, 61, was not at the field Wednesday with about 25 of his fellow Republican members of Congress when a gunman opened fire, wounding one of his friends and several others.
Meanwhile, former Pittston mayor Mike Lombardo says he is personal friends with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who was critically wounded.
Scalise has visited Pittston several times, said Lombardo.
Barletta, R-Hazleton, said recent vision problems forced him not to participate in the game this year.
He was shaken when he learned of the incident. He said he knows most of the people who were at the practice.
“I’m trying to gather my thoughts right now,” Barletta said in a phone conversation shortly after the news broke. “I’m numb over this. I really don’t understand why someone would do something like this. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
The Congressional Baseball Game, which is still scheduled for Thursday night at Nationals Park, has been a tradition since 1909. The charity game features Democratic House members playing Republican House members.
Barletta said the game has raised some $650,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Washington, D.C., and the Children’s Literacy Organization.
“While I am safe, I am sickened by this morning’s horrific shooting,” Barletta said. “My prayers are with my friend Steve Scalise, my colleagues, their staff, the local first responders, and the Capitol Police officers whose bravery saved lives.”
The officers were part of the security detail assigned to Scalise, and they fired back at the shooter.
Barletta said everyone in Washington he has spoken to is in shock. He said Scalise is well-respected and admired on The Hill.
“To think someone would want to just kill members of Congress is just sick,” he said.
Barletta said if Scalise was not a member of the team, the situation could have been much worse.
“This would have been a massacre,” said the former Hazleton mayor. “If (Scalise) wasn’t there with the security detail, members of Congress would have been sitting ducks on a baseball field.”
Barletta said he was getting ready to report to the House floor when he heard the news about the shooting.
“These are my colleagues, my friends,” he said. “I got to know many of them because of this baseball game.”
Barletta said the shooter fired 50 to 100 rounds during a 10-minute barrage.
He said inexplicable violence like Wednesday’s attack shows how things “have gone too far.”
Lombardo, Scalise link
Lombardo, former mayor of Pittston and a candidate again for the post in November, said his family has known the Scalise family for more than 40 years. Lombardo, 53, and Scalise, 51, are friends, and Scalise’s parents were godparents to Lombardo’s brother, John, a Pittston City firefighter who died in 1993 in the line of duty.
“Like most people, I am shocked and disgusted by this event,” Lombardo said.
He said his parents lived in New Orleans during the Vietnam War era. They lived across the street from the Scalise family and became close friends.
Lombardo said he visited the Scalise family in New Orleans several times and Scalise came to Pittston a few times as well.
“Whenever I go to Washington, I connect with Steve,” Lombardo said. “I was supposed to go there two months ago, but Steve’s schedule was very busy, so I ended up not going.”
Cartwright at prayer service
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, said he was out for his morning walk when he heard what happened.
Cartwright said he attended a briefing conducted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and later attended a prayer service.
“I was enormously impressed with the way the House of Representatives came together in a bipartisan sentiment,” Cartwright said. “Speaker Ryan talked about how we all must turn down the rhetoric because of how some people react.”
Casey: ‘Stand in solidarity’
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said his thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the heinous attack and their families. He was grateful for the heroic efforts of Capitol Police and local law enforcement who took actions to save lives.
“Because of the courageous actions of these first responders, the victims were not more seriously injured,” Casey said. “I join Americans across our nation in praying for a speedy recovery for Rep. Scalise and all those injured. These acts of violence have no place in our society. Today, we stand in solidarity as Americans.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.