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News / Nation & World

Mentally ill man who attacked congressional staffers has violent history, police say

By MATTHEW BARAKAT and DENISE LAVOIE, MATTHEW BARAKAT and DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press
Published: May 16, 2023, 8:04am
3 Photos
Officers work outside the Fairfax, Va., office building where police say a man wielding a baseball bat attacked two staffers for U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Monday, May 15, 2023. Fairfax City Police in northern Virginia said in a tweet that a suspect is in custody and the victims are being treated for injuries that are not life-threatening.
Officers work outside the Fairfax, Va., office building where police say a man wielding a baseball bat attacked two staffers for U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Monday, May 15, 2023. Fairfax City Police in northern Virginia said in a tweet that a suspect is in custody and the victims are being treated for injuries that are not life-threatening. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) Photo Gallery

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A mentally ill man chased and threatened a woman with a metal baseball bat in a northern Virginia neighborhood before attacking U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly’s office, shattering windows and striking two women, including an intern on her first day on the job, authorities said.

Staffers then managed to shelter in an inner office until officers arrived, within five minutes. Connolly said they used a stun gun to subdue the man, identified as Xuan-Kha Tran Pham, 49, of Fairfax. He was held without bond at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center on charges of malicious wounding and aggravated malicious wounding. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney pending his first appearance Tuesday.

Pham, 49, has been violent before, attacking police officers last year. His father, Hy Pham, told The Washington Post his son is schizophrenic and had dealt with mental illness since his late teens. He said he had been trying, without success, to arrange mental health care for his son. The father could not immediately be reached by The Associated Press.

None of the injuries Pham inflicted were life threatening, but Connolly said it shows how vulnerable public servants are in an era when political rhetoric has become more bellicose.

“I have no reason to believe that his motivation was politically motivated, but it is possible that the sort of toxic political environment we all live in, you know, set him off, and I would just hope all of us would take a little more time to be careful about what we say and how we say it,” the veteran Democratic congressman, who wasn’t in the office at the time, said in an interview.

Connolly said his staffers — an intern was struck in the side and an outreach director was hit on the head — were released after hospital treatment. One Fairfax police officer involved in detaining Pham also received treatment, for a minor injury, police spokesperson Sgt. Lisa Gardner said.

“At this time, it is not clear what the suspect’s motivation may have been,” Capitol Police said in a statement announcing a joint investigation with Fairfax City Police.

Police said the man is suspected in a separate attack a short time earlier Monday.

Fairfax County Police said a man later identified as Pham approached a woman parked in her car about five miles (eight kilometers) away from Connolly’s office at 10:37 a.m. The man asked the woman if she was white, then hit her windshield with a bat and ran away, according to police.

A video recorded on a neighbor’s home camera system at the same site shows a man with a bat chasing a woman who can be heard screaming. Dan Ashley, the homeowner, said it was “troubling to see this sort of thing happening in the neighborhood.”

In May 2022, a person whose name and community of residence matches Xuan-Kha Pham’s sued the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court.

In a hand-written complaint, the plaintiff alleged the CIA had been “wrongfully imprisoning me in a lower perspective” and “brutally torturing me with a degenerating disability consistently since 1988 till the present from the fourth dimension.”

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Last year, officers responded to a Fairfax home after a man called dispatch saying he wished to harm others, Fairfax County Police said in a statement. Pham assaulted responding officers and attempted to take a firearm, according to the statement. It said the officers sustained minor injuries.

Pham was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest and attempting to disarm a law enforcement officer, but the charges were eventually dropped when he entered an agreement designed to ensure he received mental health treatment, according to a person with the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity because Pham now has an ongoing criminal case.

Pham complied with conditions requiring him to seek treatment from his arrest in January through a nine-month period when the charges were dropped in September, the person said.

Connolly, currently serving his eighth term representing Virginia’s Fairfax County-based 11th District in the Washington suburbs, said officers had to subdue the man with a taser.

“He was very violent and agitated. He’s obviously somebody suffering from serious mental illness but it does underscore for all of us the vulnerability potentially of our district offices because we don’t have the level of security we have here on Capital Hill,” Connolly said.

Other elected officials from Virginia condemned the violence, among them U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. He retweeted Connolly’s statement, calling the attack an “extraordinarily disturbing development.”

“Intimidation and violence – especially against public servants – has no place in our society,” Warner said.

Since the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, threats to lawmakers and their families have increased sharply. The U.S. Capitol Police investigated around 7,500 cases of potential threats against members of Congress in 2022. The year before, they investigated around 10,000 threats to members, more than twice the number from four years earlier.

In October, a man broke into the San Francisco home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, demanding to speak with her, before he smashed her husband, Paul, over the head with a hammer.

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