What We Know So Far
- John Russell Houser, 59, stood up during a screening of Trainwreck at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Thursday and opened fire – killing two people and injuring nine more, authorities said.
- Houser tried to blend in with the fleeing theatergoers but turned back when he saw police officials rushing inside. He then shot and killed himself.
- The two victims have been identified as Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33.
- He legally purchased the handgun at an Alabama pawn shop last year.
- Houser has an arrest record and he used politically extreme language in his online writings. His family said in court papers that he “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”
Police on Monday completed their crime scene investigation of the Grand Theatre, turning it back over to its owners.
Officers would continue to provide security at the theater as clean-up crews worked, Cpl. Paul Mouton said.
Investigation into the shooting and the motives of John Houser continued on Monday. A notebook left by the gunman in his motel room was undergoing analysis, police said, as officers continued to follow other information.
Three victims remained hospitalized.
For years, those who met John Houser recalled him as vindictive and angry — most recently two women who he told about the time he tried to kill his cat.
Houser had began talking to Bonnie Barbier and a friend while they were having lunch in a Lafayette bistro, Barber told the Associated Press. He had been rambling before launching into the story of a stray cat he had rescued that then became ill. He beat the cat with a metal pole, attempting to kill it, but it lived, Barbier said.
“He was hurt that the cat lived,” Barbier said. “It was this twisted sense that he was doing the right thing.”
Less than a week later, Barbier saw Houser again — this time his photo on a TV screen as authorities identified him as the shooter in the Grand Theatre.
Houser had written down the date and the time of the movie he attacked in the notebook, which Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael Edmonson said adds credence to the theory that the shooting was premeditated.
Investigators also found wigs and glasses in both the motel room and Houser’s car, according to ABC News.
They said they believe that Houser had planned to escape after his rampage, and that his motive is still unclear.
Members of the church group routinely picket funerals of soldiers and people killed in mass-shootings, claiming God intended for them to die.
In an interview on the CBS show Face The Nation, Jindal said the families of Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33, should be allowed to grieve in peace.
“If they come here to Louisiana, if they try to disrupt this funeral, we’re going to lock them up. We’re going to arrest them,” he said.
“Let these families grieve, let them celebrate their daughters, their children, their spouses, their loved ones’ lives in peace. They better not try that nonsense here.”
The 59-year-old, who shot himself dead in the attack, legally purchased the handgun at an Alabama pawn shop last year.
Jindal pointed to legislation passed recently in his state that would have blocked Houser from acquiring a weapon due to his past mental health issues.
The Louisiana governor revealed investigators now know Houser visited other movie theaters in the southern part of the state prior to opening fire on Thursday.
“We know this theater had security on Friday and Saturday night. We know he chose a theater that allow him to park his car near that exit. It appeared he was trying to escape,” Jindal said.
John Houser visited the Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater more than once before opening fire Thursday, possibly to determine if it was a “soft target,” the city’s police chief said.
When Houser, 59, stood up and opened fire Thursday night during a screening of Trainwreck at the Grand Theatre, he was “methodical and took his time,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a news conference Friday.
“It was barbaric,” Jindal said. “It wasn’t one single burst, it wasn’t targeted… It literally spread across the theater.”
Officials described how Houser planned to make a quick escape after the shooting, parking his car just outside with the keys resting atop a tire. But police were quick to respond, prompting Houser — who had been attempting to blend in with the fleeing theatergoers — to go back inside, where he fired off four more rounds before fatally shooting himself, officials said.
Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33, were killed in the attack.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said investigators recovered 15 shell casings inside the theater, and that it did not appear Houser had any accomplices. One male victim was shot four times, Craft added. According to Jindal, another “played dead to stay alive.”
Houser used a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun that was legally purchased at a pawn shop in Phenix City, Alabama, in February 2014, Craft said. A total of 20 rounds were fired in the attack.
State police Col. Mike Edmonson credited the swift police response for foiling Houser’s escape.
“Thank god the police got here in less than a minute,” he said.
Asked by reporters whether Houser may have fallen through any law enforcement or legal cracks, Jindal said the emphasis now was on the investigation and comforting those affected by the shooting.
“In the end, love will triumph over evil,” he said.
Judd Apatow, the director of Trainwreck — the movie that was playing when the shooting took place — called it “madness.”
“One of the reasons we make these movies is because the world can be so horrifying and we all need to laugh just to deal with it,” Apatow said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “So to have this happen in a room where people were smiling and laughing devastates me. My thoughts and love go out to the victims and anyone touched by this madness or any madness. We, as a country, need to find a way to do better.”
Amy Schumer, who wrote and stars in the movie, tweeted about the shooting Thursday night, saying, “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.”
Universal Pictures also commented, calling it a “senseless tragedy.”
John “Rusty” Houser, the suspect in the Lafayette shooting, had a number of brushes with the law in Phenix City, Alabama, and in his hometown of Columbus, Georgia, local officials said in a press conference Friday.
Houser was first arrested in Columbus the early 1990s for arson, said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor. Later, in 2005, after he’d moved to Phenix City, his then-wife reported him for domestic violence.
In 2008, his family requested a protective order against him, reportedly after he attempted to stop his daughter’s marriage.
And in 2014, the couple that bought his foreclosed home reported him for vandalism after he poured concrete down their plumbing and dangerously tampered with their gas pipes, particularly a gas chimney inside the house.
“If they’d turned it on, it would have been blowing out gas and fire,” Taylor said of the fireplace. “It would have been potentially very dangerous.”
Despite those repeated reports, Houser was never arrested in Phenix City and had no open warrants, Taylor said, because his former wife did not press criminal charges against him. A grand jury dismissed the criminal mischief case after he vandalized his former home.
Taylor added that the FBI’s offices in Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana are now participating in the investigation.
A spokesman with the Columbus police department told BuzzFeed News the agency couldn’t release its records of Houser because of the ongoing federal investigation.
All of the shooting victims taken to Lafayette General Medical Center are expected to survive, hospital officials announced at a press conference on Friday.
Lafayette General received a total of five patients with gunshot wounds on Thursday night, hospital officials said. Three of those patients arrived via EMS, while two were brought to the hospital by private vehicles.
Two of the patients were discharged that night, hospital officials said. Of the victims who remained overnight, one of them required surgery and another had to be taken to the intensive care unit.
All of the patients — including one who was listed in critical condition — are now stable and expected to recover, officials said.
Members of the hospital staff had personal connections to the victims, the officials said.
“We certainly had many ties to the victims,” said hospital president David Callecod. “Mayci Breaux [one of the fatal victims of the shooting] was an X-ray student. She was scheduled to begin radiology school here in just a few days.”
A hospital employee, facilities and security director Ronald Thomas, was present at the theater at the time of the shooting, Callecod said. He and his wife transported one of the victims to Lafayette General.
Col. Michael Edmonson, the superintendent for the Louisiana State Police, said that the agency was “looking into [Houser’s] internet writings,” calling the shooter a “blogger” who sympathized with the tea party.
Social media accounts and forum postings that appear to belong to Houser detail his sympathy with the U.S. branch of Golden Dawn, a far-right Greek political party, and with the Westboro Baptist Church, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We are being very cautious with social media because of the amount of speculation that’s out there,” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said at the news conference.
Craft added that 7 of the 12 people who were shot remained in the hospital, one of them still in critical condition. He said there were some 300 people in the building at the time of the shooting, and that 25 tickets had been sold for the particular movie where the shooting took place.
Craft also said the ATF had not finished its investigation into how Houser got his .40-caliber gun, adding that the gun’s brand made it “more difficult to trace.” He declined to name the making of the gun because the ATF’s inquiry is still ongoing.
Craft added that Houser did not have a concealed carry permit in Louisiana, but that it remained unclear whether he had one from his native Alabama. Local officials from Houser’s hometown told BuzzFeed News earlier that Houser applied for a conceal carry permit in 2006 but was denied because of his criminal record.
Edmonson said the agency was also investigating a restraining order filed against Houser in 2008 by his then-wife and daughter.
He added that there is no ongoing threat to the public.
In the midst of the shooting in a Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater on Thursday night, teacher Jena Legnon Meaux reportedly covered and took a bullet for her colleague Ali Viator Martin — who then pulled the theater’s fire alarm to notify authorities.
Read more about their heroic story here.
Local authorities in Alabama rejected the shooter’s application for a permit to carry a concealed firearm because of a prior arrest for arson.
Heath Taylor, the sheriff for Russell County, Alabama, where John Russell Houser once lived, told BuzzFeed News that his office had several interactions with the shooter.
“He tried to get a concealed carry permit in 2006,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News. “He was denied due to an arrest for arson that was in his background, back in ‘89 or ‘90.”
Houser’s last known address was at 1911 32nd St. in Phenix City, Alabama. The local authorities evicted him on March 25, 2014, Taylor said.
“After that, he did some damage to the property,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News. “A report was taken in which he was named as a defendant for criminal mischief, but he was not arrested.”
Houser appears as a complainant in several loud music reports with the sheriff’s office.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the provenance of Houser’s .40-caliber handgun, the agency told BuzzFeed News.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was critically injured by a gunman in 2011 and has since become a gun control advocate, issued a statement condemning the shooting.
“It happened again.
“We wish we could say what happened in Lafayette is unthinkable. But it is not.
“Once again, a senseless shooting has destroyed the lives of Americans. And once again, Americans went to a movie theater with friends and loved ones for a casual night of comedy, entertainment and innocent escape, only to have terror, bloodshed, and violence visited upon them.
“The details of exactly what happened last night and why are still unclear, but we know that gun violence has taken more innocent lives, that many of the wounded will have a long road ahead, and that a community’s heart has been tested but will not be broken.”
“We are grateful to the first responders who acted with courage, and we are thinking of the injured and those caring for them. Our hearts, prayers, and thoughts are in Lafayette.”
Giffords issued the statement with her husband, former NASA Captain Mark Kelly, noting that the Lafayette incident happened only days after the anniversary of a similar shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
Police identified the two victims who died in the Lafayette shooting as 33-year-old Jilian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux.
Authorities said Breaux died on the scene, while Johnson died at the hospital. Another victim remains in critical condition, but his or her name was not released. It is unclear whether the shooter knew anybody in the theater, authorities said. Breaux and Johnson did not know each other.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said at a press conference Friday morning that Houser was “kind of a drifter” who had been staying at a local motel since early July. No motive has been established and Houser is believed to have acted alone, Craft said.
Craft said that two police officers confronted Houser as he tried to leave the theater, forcing him to go back inside.
“The quick law enforcement response pushed him back into the theater, at which point he shot himself,” Craft said.
Officials said Houser used a .40-caliber handgun and fired 13 rounds. No bombs were found in the theater.
Police found “wigs and disguises” in Houser’s motel room and suspect that he might have been “intent on shooting and then escaping.” Craft said that police found “indications that alcohol may have been consumed” in Houser’s motel room.
Houser was arrested years ago for arson and for selling alcohol to a minor, Craft said. Police have interviewed his estranged family in Alabama.
Speaking at the press conference on Friday, Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor and candidate for the Republican nomination for president, said the state was “heartbroken” at the events.