KANSAS CITY NORTH -- A Northland man who he grew up with James Hodgkinson says he was shocked to learn about his role in the Virginia ballfield attack.
Even in childhood, Ken Coverdell says Hodgkinson, who people in Belleville, Ill., knew as "Tommy," was not someone to challenge.
"The one thing I do remember distinctly is that his father was a very staunch Democrat," Coverdell said. "He hated Republicans."
Coverdell was not surprised to learn that Hodgkinson belonged to anti-Republican groups or volunteered for Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. But Coverdell says he never expected the childhood friend he calls Tommy to target Republican lawmakers in a shooting spree.
"Totally shocked! Totally shocked," he said. "For him to do something like that, I knew he was out there a little bit. But I thought he was more normal. That he would not get the way that he did. I guess he just went over the top. He couldn't handle Trump."
Coverdell described his hometown as blue collar, full of Democrats who were mostly union workers half a century ago. With a tavern on every corner, he says Hodgkinson had a reputation for being a fighter.
"Tom was small in stature. He was only about 5' 2" right?" Coverdell explained. "But he worked out all the time to make up for it. He was mean. He was bad. He would fight at the drop of a hat. That's just the way he was."
Coverdell left Belleville after serving in the Marine Corps and retired from the U.S. Defense Department in Kansas City. He believes the increasing divisive nature of national politics proved to be too much for an ardent partisan like Hodgkinson to handle.
"I think it just kept building up," he said. "And over the years when Trump finally got into office, that just popped his cork. I imagine I'm speaking from my own personal opinion, that he could not handle it."
Coverdell believes the tragedy of the shooting should serve as a warning for Americans on the need to cooperate to make the nation better.
Hodgkinson reportedly signed a petition calling for the legal removal of the president and vice president. He also is believed to have posted on Facebook: "Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It's time to destroy Trump and company."