Lafayette cinema shooting: What was the motive of the Louisiana killer?
Published 25/07/2015 | 01:00
A jobless 59-year-old man whose estranged family feared him was identified by authorities on Friday as the gunman who fatally shot two people in a rampage at crowded movie theater in central Louisiana before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.
The suspected gunman, John R. Houser, who police described as a drifter from Alabama who was staying at a local motel, opened fire with a .40 caliber handgun about 20 minutes into the film "Trainwreck," sending panicked theatergoers ducking behind seats and running for the exits. One woman pulled the fire alarm.
"This is a normal movie theater in a normal part of a normal town. This is Anywhere, USA," said Republican Louisiana 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, having switched its license plates, near the theater's exit and stashed a set of keys on the tire in what police said appeared to be preparations for a quick getaway. Disguises including wigs and glasses were later uncovered in his motel room.
"It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and escaping," Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said.
Houser, who police said came from Phenix City, Alabama, never made it back to his car, instead shooting himself as police swarmed the Grand 16 Theater, a multiplex located along main thoroughfare in Lafayette.
Police said they did not know why the suspect launched the attack in Lafayette, roughly 55 miles (90 km) southwest of 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 U.S. servicemen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the massacre of nine African Americans at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
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 U.S. Constitution.
President Barack Obama, who was traveling to Kenya, received a briefing about the shooting during a refueling stop in Germany, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
"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," a statement said.
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.
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 theater, he said.
Houser had a volatile relationship with his family, who said he had a history of mental illness. He was also a political conservative who joined the Tea Party. He was described as a "gadfly" who voiced his views on talk radio and ran for local political office.
In April 2008, he was ordered not to contact his wife, daughter and other relatives after they filed a request for a protective order against him in Carroll County, Georgia.
In the request, Houser's estranged wife, Kellie Houser, said she feared for his "volatile mental state" after he threatened to stop the wedding of his daughter and her boyfriend, according to court records. She said her husband was on daily medications for manic-depression and bipolar disorder at the time.
It was unclear if Houser had any other children.
The protective order was granted after Houser was released from an involuntary commitment requested by his family, according to the petition.
Houser's wife filed for divorce in March after they separated in 2012 following 29 years of marriage, court records show. According to the clerk of court's office the divorce had not been finalized.
Craft, the police chief, said records indicated that Houser, who is white, had no arrests in the last 10 to 15 years, but previously had an arson and a misdemeanor arrest, possibly involving the sale of alcohol to a minor.
A LinkedIn page that appears to have belonged to Houser describes him as an entrepreneur with a specialty in investment management. He helped run two bars in Georgia from the late 1970s to 2000, the page says. His education included a law degree from Faulkner University in 1991, and a BBA in accounting from Columbus State University.
He said he was a member of the Tea Party, according to Tea Party Nation.com, and worked as guest host on a now-defunct political commentary show.
A frequent commenter on PoliticalForum.com, a messaging board covering social and political topics, Houser, who posted under the name Rusty Houser, wrote about 200 posts on President Barack Obama, taxes and how "the U.S. is about to fall."
In response to a thread in May 2013 about the fall of the United States, Houser wrote: "Truth carries with it an understanding of death. Rather than live without it, I will take death."
Bobby Peters, a former mayor of Columbus, Georgia, said Houser was an "erratic" local activist who came to council meetings and had a talk show where he interviewed elected officials. Columbus is across the state line from Phenix City, Alabama.
"He was just a community activist here, very intelligent guy, but he was hard to keep focused on the issues. He was always jumping from issue to issue," Peters said.