Sunday 25 September 2016

Cinema gunman who killed two was a 'drifter', say US police

Dean Gray

Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30

Franklyn Police Chief Sabria McGuire hugs Christian Wise as Britney Landry looks on outside a rosary service for Mayci Breaux in Franklin, Louisiana July 24, 2015. An Alabama drifter opened fire inside the crowded movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana Thursday night killing Breaux and Jillian Johnson, police said, in the latest act of random gun violence to shock the United States. REUTERS/Lee Celano
Franklyn Police Chief Sabria McGuire hugs Christian Wise as Britney Landry looks on outside a rosary service for Mayci Breaux in Franklin, Louisiana July 24, 2015. An Alabama drifter opened fire inside the crowded movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana Thursday night killing Breaux and Jillian Johnson, police said, in the latest act of random gun violence to shock the United States. REUTERS/Lee Celano
Mason Matthews, 10, leaves a card at a makeshift memorial for shooting victim Jillian Johnson at Red Arrow Workshop in River Ranch in Lafayette. Photo: AP
Investigators stand outside a movie theatre where a man shot and killed filmgoers Thursday night in Lafayette, Louisiana July 24, 2015. REUTERS/Lee Celano
John R. Houser is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the Lafayette Police Department in Lafayette, Louisiana July 24, 2015. REUTERS/Lafayette Police Dept/Handout via Reuters
Lafayette Police Department and Louisiana State Police units block an entrance road following a shooting at The Grand Theatre in Lafayette, La., Thursday, July 23, 2015. (Paul Kieu/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

The gunman who opened fire on a cinema crowd in the US, killing two before committing suicide, has been described as a drifter whose escape plan was thwarted by the arrival of police officers almost immediately.

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The incident was the latest mass shooting in the US and the second in three years at a cinema. Nine people were wounded in the evening attack in the city of Lafayette, Louisiana.

The gunman, identified as John Russel Houser (59), fired 13 times from a handgun, police said.

He had parked his car by the cinema's exit door and initially tried to escape by blending into the fleeing crowd, but turned back when he saw police heading inside from the car park, authorities said.

Officers tailing him back into the building then heard a single gunshot and found him dead, police said.

Lafayette police chief Jim Craft said: "The quick law-enforcement response forced him back into the theatre."

Authorities said Houser, who was from the neighbouring state of Alabama, had been in the Lafayette area since early July, staying at a motel where they found disguises, including glasses and wigs.

Police said the gunman was by himself and started the rampage by shooting the two people sitting in front of him.

One film-goer described the attack, saying an older man stood up about 20 minutes into the popular comedy Trainwreck and began shooting.

"We heard a loud pop, we thought was a firecracker," Katie Domingue told The Advertiser, a local newspaper.

"He wasn't saying anything."

Stories of heroism have emerged, with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who travelled to the scene within hours of the shooting, telling reporters that a teacher 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.

Nine people ranging in age from their late teens to their late 60s were wounded, Mr Craft said. At least one of those was in critical condition and being operated on, he said.

Police said there were about 100 people inside the cinema at the time of the shooting.

Houser had been arrested and fined for several offences in the past, ranging from arson to selling alcohol to a minor to speeding, authorities said. It is not clear where the arson allegedly occurred.

He had been married once but did not currently have a wife.

Police said they had talked to his family in Alabama but he appeared "seemingly estranged" from them.

"It just seems like he was kind of drifting along," Mr Craft said.

The Louisiana shooting occurred three years after James Holmes entered a crowded cinema in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of a Batman film, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.

A jury last week quickly convicted Holmes on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges.

Irish Independent

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