Three Dead After Shooting at 'Trainwreck' Screening in Louisiana

AP Images
John Russel Houser

The gunman, John Russell Houser, who shot and killed himself after fatally wounding two others and leaving nine more people injured, has been described by police as "kind of a drifter."

Three people, including a gunman, died after a man opened fire at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana Thursday night during a screening of Trainwreck.

Nine others were injured, with two survivors released and the rest hospitalized, one in critical condition, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said during a press conference. Those injured range in age from late teens to early 60s, but Craft said Friday morning that police would not be releasing any identifying information on the injured victims. Police arrived as the shooting was occurring and initially shut down the other Grand Theatre in town and deployed police to other theaters. Craft said he believed the gunman, a 59-year-old white male, was sitting in the theater alone when he opened fire with a handgun.

Police identified the shooter as John Russell Houser. They said he had planned to escape out of the theater after firing the initial gunshots but when he saw the police presence went back in and shot himself. "The quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater," Craft said early Friday morning. Police said Friday that investigators had found at least 13 shell casings in the theater as well as three cellphones, without batteries. It's unknown if the cellphones belonged to Houser. The Louisiana State Police said they do not yet have a motive for the shooting and that it was not a domestic situation. They asked the public to contact law enforcement if they have any information about Houser.

Lafayette police said in an early Friday morning press conference that Houser, who lived in Alabama, was "kind of a drifter." They said he had been in the Lafayette area since early July, staying at a local motel, where the police found disguises, including glasses and wigs. They also located his car at the theater and the area was evacuated after a suspicious package was spotted, with the bomb squad coming in to investigate. The police said no explosives were found in Houser's car or the theater. His car had a "switched license tag" on it, police said.

Police officers have also been to Houser's house in Alabama and are talking to his friends and family. But it seems Houser was estranged from them and drifting around. He had been married at one time but was not as of Thursday night. The only connection to Lafayette they found so far is that he had an uncle who lived here, who has been dead for 35 years. Craft said early Friday morning that there are indications that alcohol may have been consumed but no sign of drug use by the shooter. Police have not found that he was working with or associated with anyone. Police showed the below photo of Houser at the Friday morning press conference.

Houser's weapon was recovered and crime scene technicians were still in the theater trying to gather evidence from what police called a "horrific" scene. The Grand Theatre will remain closed until police can do all of the work they need to do there, Craft said early Friday.

Houser had been arrested and ticketed for various offenses in the past including arson, selling alcohol to a minor and speeding, which he received four tickets for, the Associated Press reported.

State police superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson told the AP that police believe Houser only fired shots at the theater and had not carried out an attack anywhere prior.

Houser's wife and other family members in 2008 asked for a temporary protective order, the AP reported, citing court documents that said Houser, "exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements." The documents added that he had gone from Phenix City, Alabama, where he lived, to Carroll County, Georgia, where his wife and her family lived and "perpetrated various acts of family violence." The filing noted that Houser, "has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder." That order was at least temporarily granted. Houser's wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, filed for divorce in March, the AP added.

At a later press conference on Friday morning, Craft said that only 25 tickets were sold to Trainwreck, with Houser among those who purchased a ticket, not doing anything suspicious or looking that way. Craft added that 300 people were in the building at the time of the shooting and 116 of those people have been interviewed.

Craft and Edmonson said that crime-scene investigators and other law-enforcement officers both locally and from Homeland Security, the FBI, DEA, ATF and Secret Service were all on the case but cautioned it would take some time for them to get to the bottom of what happened, describing the investigation as "slow going" from there on out.

Edmonson said authorities are looking into online postings that Houser may have made, in which he commented on things happening in the federal, state and local government, but he urged the media to be cautious.

"Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true," he said. "Chief Craft and myself have to look at every single thing to try to find pieces of that puzzle so we can put it together."

While there's a possibility they won't find a motive, they're committed to finding one.

"Certainly it exists out there that we may not find a motive but that's not our goal right now," Edmonson said. "Everyone [in law enforcement working on this case] is trying to find a motive, trying to find something: Why'd he walk into that theater? Why'd he fire at least 13 times? Why'd he turn around and go back in there? Why'd he leave his car outside with the keys on top of the tire? Why was he living in a [Motel 6]? Why did he have wigs and glasses in there?"

Edmonson continued: "We've got to put these things together and try to find some type of closure, for that family, for this community, for the men and women that worked in that theater. … We're trying to put every single piece of that together to try to find a motive. ... It happened here for a reason…I think we owe it to those families to try to find some type of closure and put those pieces together to give us some answers."

Among the things law-enforcement has learned from Houser's family, his mom loaned him some money and he told her he was going to get his life together, police said.

Edmonson assured people that there's no ongoing threat from the shooting, with no indication Houser had an accomplice or anyone who would try to unleash a follow-up attack.

Since police released the name of the shooter, they are getting calls from people who say they may have had interactions with Houser.

The other two people killed in the shooting were both white women: Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33. Breaux died at the scene and Johnson died at the hospital.

The Lafayette Police Department received calls at approximately 7:30 p.m. local time and arrived on the scene within less than five minutes. Four officers entered the theater while shots were still being fired.

Moviegoer Katie Domingue told The Advertiser that the shooting occurred about 20 minutes into Trainwreck.

"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," she said. She saw an older, white man and said he was the shooter.

"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," Domingue said.

The Grand 16, located at 3141 Johnston Street, is operated by Southern Theatres, the eighth largest theater circuit in the United States, with 542 screens in 40 locations.

"Troopers are working closely with the Lafayette Police Department as well as numerous other agencies to provide assistance and investigate the shooting incident at the Grand Theater," police said in a Facebook post. "Please keep the families of the victims in your thoughts and prayers."

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal tweeted that he was en route to Lafayette. In an earlier tweet, Jindal said, "Prayers for Lafayette at Grand Theater. Talking to state police colonel about shooting in Lafayette." 

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks to the press outside the Grand Theater

During the press conference, Jindal said, "Lafayette is a strong community. We will get through this." Jindal also said that two teachers were shot inside the theater, with one shielding the other from a gunshot wound to the head, and one proceeded to pull the fire alarm. A GoFundMe page has started to raise money for the teachers' medical expenses.

The Louisiana State Police released a statement on Facebook around 9:30 p.m. local time Thursday evening: "Troopers are working closely with the Lafayette Police Department as well as numerous other agencies to provide assistance and investigate the shooting incident at the Grande Theater. Please keep the families of the victims in your thoughts and prayers."

On July 20, 2012, 12 people died and dozens other were injured at a midnight screening of The Dark Night Rises in Aurora, Colorado when James Holmes opened fire. Holmes was convicted last week on multiple counts of murder and attempted murder and is eligible for the death penalty.

Trainwreck star Amy Schumer tweeted, "My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana."

President Obama was traveling to Kenya Thursday night. But a press corps pool report quoted White House press secretary Josh Earnest as saying on the plane: "While traveling aboard AF1 on Thursday night, the President received a briefing from Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, on the mass shooting at a movie theatre in Louisiana. The President directed his team to keep him updated on the investigation and on the status of those injured in the shooting. 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."

The American Film Institute issued the following statement late Thursday evening: "Going to a summer movie is a celebration of the American creative spirit and one of our nation's most beloved pastimes. Let us stand together in these times of tragedy and embrace what is precious to us — churches, schools and places where the arts can send our spirits soaring. As a national community of artists and audiences, AFI offers our heartfelt sympathies to the victims in Louisiana and their families."

Trainwreck, released by Universal, is directed by Judd Apatow and stars and was written by Amy Schumer. LeBron James, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton and Vanessa Bayer co-star in the film. 

Universal, Apatow and Larson all released statements on Friday, with Larson saying, "I'm devastated and deeply disturbed by this tragedy. My thoughts and condolences go out to the victims and their families in Louisiana."

 

AMC Theaters expressed their sympathy for victims of the shooting in the below tweet Friday.

 

Troopers are working closely with the Lafayette Police Department as well as numerous other agencies to provide...

Posted by Louisiana State Police on Thursday, July 23, 2015

 

More to come...

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