“Is it shocking?” asked Doug Knepper, whose son is married to one of Mr. Hodgkinson’s foster daughters. “No, because the man did not seem 100 percent stable to me.”
No one can truly know what motivates a man to drive halfway across the country, live out of his car — as Mr. Hodgkinson apparently did — and attempt a mass killing of members of Congress. In the days since the shooting, much has been made of Mr. Hodgkinson’s strong political views — he was an ardent supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders’s bid for the 2016 presidential nomination, and he railed against President Trump and Republicans in Washington on his Facebook page and in letters to the editor of the local newspaper.
But another aspect of his personality may have also presaged the shooting: his troubled home life.
When Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analyzed F.B.I. data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, it found that 57 percent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.
There is extensive research on shooters who kill multiple victims, but none on those, like Mr. Hodgkinson, who only wound, experts say. Most mass killers “arguably suffered from some form of mental instability,” at least temporarily, the Congressional Research Service concluded in a 2015 report.
Mass shooters are usually socially isolated, experts say, and channel their sense of grievance into a rage at a particular group of people. Some latch onto a political cause as a way of justifying their violence. And their attacks are often carefully planned and premeditated. In that sense, Mr. Hodgkinson also fits a pattern.
But for all his complaining about Republicans, he had little to do with Democratic politics here.
“Never heard his name, ever, ever, ever,” said Patty A. Sprague, the St. Clair County auditor, who has been in elective office for more than a decade. “We knew our volunteers, and he was not a part of it at all.”
A onetime high school wrestler who worked for years in construction and then ran his own home inspection business, Mr. Hodgkinson spent much of his adult life here in Belleville, a Southern Illinois community of just over 40,000 people not far from St. Louis. He lived with his wife of nearly 30 years, Suzanne, in the home with the sun awning and flowerpots, which this past week were sprouting pink flowers, on a street with a pleasant name: Rolling Hills Lane.
Cindi Clements, 59, who has known the Hodgkinsons for more than 20 years, said Mr. Hodgkinson had long been “Billy Goat Gruff” and was known for his “abruptness,” qualities that could be endearing or maddening, depending on the audience. He was known to show up at dinner parties and turn around and leave if the meal was not ready. She said Mr. Hodgkinson’s political views had taken an “extreme, fanatic” turn in 2016; while “life moved on for other people,” she said, the election had “never ended for him.”
The Hodgkinsons had no biological children, friends say, but they were licensed as foster parents for much of the time between 1990 and 2003. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, citing privacy rules, declined to comment on their performance. Ms. Clements said they had taken in foster children because they could not have their own.
“They were loving,” she said. “We were not blood, but they would host Christmas for all of my family.”
In 2004, the couple was featured in a newsletter published by the state, in an article about a foster daughter named Julie. Mr. Hodgkinson, who went by the nickname Tom, was sick and in the hospital on Julie’s wedding day; he insisted on leaving the hospital to walk her down the aisle. Ms. Clements said he showed up for the ceremony in a tiny brick Belleville church, entering at the last minute as 50-some heads swung around to watch a sick man in a tie and slacks hobble in.
“It was a little unorthodox, but he made it happen,” the article said.
But there were other, much darker moments.
After one of the couple’s foster daughters, Wanda Ashley Stock, set herself on fire in 1996, the couple told the local newspaper, The Belleville News-Democrat, that they did not know what had prompted a “very practical, levelheaded girl” to take her own life. The newspaper went on to say that the couple later discovered that the young woman had previously attempted suicide, and that hours before she killed herself, her boyfriend had broken up with her.
Experts caution that many children arrive in foster homes with deep-rooted problems that cannot be attributed to those who care for them. Even so, the Hodgkinsons’ home life was chaotic.
In 2002, court records show, the Hodgkinsons became legal guardians of their grandniece, Cathy Lynn Putman, just as she turned 13. She had been in the Illinois foster care system since at least 1995. In a 2003 annual report the couple made to the state about her, they called her a “minor and low functioning mentally,” and said she needed “adult supervision at this time.”
By April 1, 2006, according to police records and interviews, the young woman was seeking refuge with the Hodgkinsons’ next-door neighbor. On that day, her friend Aimee Moreland called her boyfriend, Joel Fernandez, to the Hodgkinson home and said Mr. Hodgkinson had been beating Ms. Putman.
According to a police report, Mr. Hodgkinson had forced his way into the neighbor’s house, screaming for the young woman. When she hid in a bedroom and locked the door, Mr. Hodgkinson broke into the room and dragged her by her hair, the report said.
Later, as Ms. Putman got into Ms. Moreland’s Honda Civic, Mr. Hodgkinson opened the car door, turned off the ignition, slashed her seatbelt with a pocketknife and ultimately tried to choke his grandniece, the police said. When Mr. Fernandez tried to step in, he said, Mr. Hodgkinson came at him with a shotgun and hit him in the head with the butt of his gun.
Mr. Hodgkinson was charged with two misdemeanor counts of battery and with damaging a motor vehicle. He pleaded not guilty and the case was eventually dismissed, records show, because the victims did not appear in court. A judge eventually gave custody of Ms. Putman to the next-door neighbor; in their final report to the state, the Hodgkinsons described the arrangement as “quite stressful and uncomfortable” for them.
During a court hearing in November 2006, The Belleville News-Democrat reported, Ms. Putman told a judge that Mr. Hodgkinson had hit her in the face for not mowing the lawn correctly. “I didn’t mark a time” when Mr. Hodgkinson “started hitting me,” she told the judge.
Ms. Putman, by this time known as Cathy Rainbolt, died of a drug overdose in 2015; she was 25. In a paid death notice in the local paper, her adoptive mother, Nicki Friedeck, lamented her very difficult life — and the foster care system. “Cathy’s story is her own. A tragedy. Her life was mixed with suffering and laughter,” Ms. Friedeck wrote. “Foster care is not supposed to be belittling. The child is not supposed to be your free worker bee.”
It was not clear whether she was referring to the Hodgkinsons or another set of foster parents.
By that time, though, some who knew Mr. Hodgkinson were convinced that something was not quite right about him. Mr. Knepper and his wife, Vicki, first met Mr. Hodgkinson in 2014, when their son Matthew became engaged to another of the Hodgkinsons’ foster daughters, Tasha. Ms. Knepper described Mr. Hodgkinson as “very aloof,” and uninterested in the children he had helped to raise.
“When Sue talked about the kids, it was always ‘I wanted it,’ it was never ‘we,’” Ms. Knepper said. More recently, she said, Ms. Hodgkinson had confided in the Kneppers that she wanted a divorce.
In March of this year, Mr. Hodgkinson abruptly left Belleville for Washington, telling friends he was going to the capital to protest and demand tax reform. His wife, Suzanne — now his widow — held a brief news conference on Thursday outside their home, where she said she thought her husband had gone to Washington to “work on taxes.”
But she also suggested that his home life might have factored into his decision to leave.
The couple’s daughter, Tasha, had split from her husband and moved back into the house on Rolling Hills Lane, bringing her 2-year-old son with her. Mr. Hodgkinson was not pleased about it.
“He’s home all day long; I think he just wanted a break from it,” Mrs. Hodgkinson said. Asked why family circumstances might have prompted him to leave, she added, “You don’t need to know that stuff.”
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