The man who opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater Thursday night, killing two patrons before turning the gun on himself when police blocked his escape, was a “drifter” from Alabama who had a collection of disguises in his motel room and a trick license plate on his 20-year-old Lincoln Continental, police said Friday.
Lafayette Police identified John Russel Houser, 59 as the gunman who fired into a crowd of 100 people at the Grand 16 Theater during a screening of Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck.” The gunfire killed Jillian Johnson, 33, a well-known local businesswoman and Mayci Breaux, 21, an employee at a fashionable woman’s boutique. Nine others were injured in the shooting, including reportedly Breaux's boyfriend.
“He’s kind of a drifter,” Police Chief Jim Craft told a news conference.
Details about the gunman quickly emerged from the press conference and online postings believed to be Houser's, painting a picture of a troubled and erratic man who had described his occupation as “hustling.”
Craft said Houser was from Phenix City, Alabama, but had been staying at a motel in Lafayette, he said.
"This is such a senseless, tragic action," Craft said Friday night. "Why would you come here and do something like this?"
Craft said Houser bought the weapon legally at a pawnshop in Phenix City, last year, and that he had visited the theater more than once, perhaps to determine "whether there was anything that could be a soft target for him."
Police recovered disguises, including wigs and glasses, during a search of the room. His 1995 Lincoln Continental "with switched license tags" was parked next to the movie theater exit, Craft said.
“It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and escaping,” he said. He said police found 13 spent round from Houser's semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun.
In one online profile believed to have been filled out by Houser in 2013, he wrote that he believes the U.S. will have a “Mad Max”-style societal breakdown by 2018, he claimed no political affiliation and said voting was a “waste of time.”
It is also believed he authored a rambling rant on the online forum about death in which he said that he would rather die than live without truth.
“My greatest fear is that I could die making a decision for the good of myself against everyone else," he wrote. "The death I fear is the death fools will experience.”
In 2008, Houser's family had him committed because of his violent-prone, erratic behavior.
A judge ordered him hospitalized, records show. While he was waiting to be taken to the hospital, Houser told his wife that when he got out “he would continue his erratic as well as threatening behavior” to try and stop his daughter’s wedding, according to the court papers.
His wife also removed guns from their home in 2008. Kellie Maddox Houser, "has become so worried about the defendant's volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence."
On a Facebook page believed to be his, Houser wrote, "The bible doesn't ask me to like what it says, only to obey it. Death comes soon to the financially failing filth farm called the US."
In the 1990s Houser spouted inflammatory views on a local television call-in show in Columbus, Georgia, including advocating violence against people involved in abortions, host Calvin Floyd told the AP.
Floyd described Houser as an "angry man" who made "wild accusations" about all sorts of topics, and said he put him on to counter a Democratic voice because "he could make the phones ring."
Craft said investigators believe the gunman had originally tried to leave the theater by blending in with the fleeing crowd. However, as he attempted to do so, he spotted two police officers who had been in the parking lot and were responding to the reported shooting.
"It looks like he spotted the officers coming in and he turned around and he went against the crowd, and he fired a single gunshot," Craft said. "He was seated in the theater just like everybody else."
"The information we have at this time indicates that he was by himself, sat by himself and the first two people he shot were sitting right in front of him," the chief added.
Craft said Houser had a criminal record, but had not been in trouble with the law recently.
Two of the wounded victims were released from the hospital Friday. One of the injured had been brought to the hospital in critical condition. The hospital said Friday afternoon that after treatment his condition had improved to stable.
Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge with presidential hopeful Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene within hours of the shooting, telling reporters that a teacher who was in the theater jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.
"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," Jindal said.
The shooting happened about 20 minutes into a 7:10 p.m. showing of "Trainwreck," according to The Daily Advertiser, which quoted theatergoer Katie Domingue. Authorities said approximately 100 people were inside the theater at the time.
"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," Domingue told the newspaper. Domingue said she saw "an older white man" standing up and shooting down into the theater, but not in her direction.
"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," Domingue said.
Domingue told the newspaper she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.
Emily Mann, 21, was watching the movie while seated with a friend in the second row from the top of the theater. Her father, Randall Mann, told The Daily Advertiser that Emily heard popping noises and saw the gunman standing at the other end of her row.
Jalen Fernell told The Daily Advertiser he was watching the film "Southpaw" with friends in an adjacent theater when he heard the first shots. Initially, he thought they were part of the movie.
"About five seconds later, sirens went off and I realized it wasn't the movie," said Fernell, who added that moviegoers were told to leave the area over a loudspeaker. Outside the theater, the 20-year-old said "I saw a woman lying on the ground outside with blood everywhere. She was shot in the leg."
"We didn't know what to do. You're scared to walk through the parking lot. You don't know if the guy's in a car, hiding in the parking lot," Fernell said. He watched as police with assault rifles entered the building and described hearing a barrage of gunshots "like a war going on."
Fernell said he heard from a police car radio that six people were down in Theater 14. After more gunshots, he heard that the suspect was down and had committed suicide.
Police said they had closed other theaters in the area as a precaution. State and federal personnel were on hand to assist in the investigation.
Jindal praised the response of local law enforcement and asked for prayers on behalf of the victims.
"The best thing anybody can do right now is to think about them, pray for them, shower them with your love is the most important thing we will get through this," Jindal said. "We will get through this. We are a resilient community. This is an awful night for Lafayette. This is an awful night for Louisiana. This is an awful night for the United States."
The White House said early Friday that President Obama had been briefed on the shooting by his homeland security team while aboard Air Force One en route to Kenya.
"The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the White House, including the President and First Lady, are with the community of Lafayette, Louisiana, especially the families of those who were killed," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Comedian Amy Schumer, the star of "Trainwreck," tweeted her condolences late Thursday.
The Louisiana shooting occurred almost exactly three years after James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of "The Dark Knight Rises", killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.