LOUISIANA – Gunman kills two people in cinema
LAFAYETTE –– A 59-year-old man who had been committed to a hospital for psychiatric care was identified by authorities today as the gunman who fatally shot two people in a rampage at a crowded movie theatre in central Louisiana before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.
The suspected gunman John R. Houser, who had a history of mental illness and railed against the American government online, opened fire with a .40 calibre handgun about 20 minutes into the comedy film Trainwreck, sending panicked theatregoers ducking behind seats and running for the exits. One woman pulled the fire alarm.
“This is a normal movie theatre in a normal part of a normal town. This is Anywhere, USA,” said Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who went to the crime scene in the city of Lafayette to meet with law enforcement and victims. “This just shows these senseless acts of violence can literally happen anywhere.”
Before purchasing a ticket for the 7 p.m. show, Houser parked his blue Lincoln Continental near the theatre’s emergency exit in what police said appeared to be preparations for a quick getaway. He had switched its licence plates and stashed the keys on top of a tyre. Disguises, including glasses and women’s wigs, were later uncovered in a local motel room where he was staying.
“It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and escaping,” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said, who described Houser as an unemployed “drifter” from Phenix City, Alabama.
Houser never made it back to his car. As police swarmed the Grand 16 Theatre, located along main thoroughfare in Lafayette, he reloaded his .40 calibre handgun, re-entered the theatre and killed himself, police said.
Police said they did not know why the suspect launched the attack in Lafayette, roughly 90 kilometres south-west of the state capital Baton Rouge.
“Certainly it exists out there that we may not find a motive, but that’s not our goal right now,” Colonel Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police told reporters.
The shooting was the latest in a series of mass killings in the United States, including the fatal shooting of five American servicemen in Tennessee, and the massacre of nine African Americans at a South Carolina church in recent weeks.
The latest act of apparently random gun violence came almost three years to the day after 12 people were killed at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado.
It is likely to heat up a festering political debate in the United States over access to weapons and the right to bear arms, protected under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.
President Barack Obama had told the BBC in an interview aired yesterday before the shooting that his biggest frustration was the failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws”.
Authorities said seven were wounded in the Lafayette rampage, three of them critically.
The two victims were identified as Mayci Breaux, 21, from Franklin, Louisiana, and Jillian Johnson, 33, from Lafayette. Breaux was about to begin studies at Lafayette General Hospital to become an X-ray technician. Johnson owned a Lafayette gift shop.
Amanda Rabalais, 19, a college student who frequently shopped at Johnson’s store, said she was stunned by the shooting.
“I don’t think I can go inside a movie theatre for quite some time now. It just really shook my feeling about safety,” she said.
Two of the wounded victims were teachers, Jindal said, one of whom told him that she survived the attack because her friend rolled on top of her as bullets rang out. That teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm in the theatre, he said.