Monday 24 October 2016

Louisiana cinema shootings: gunman was mentally ill

Published 24/07/2015 | 03:42

A Lafayette Police Department vehicle blocks an entrance at the Grand Theatre following a shooting (AP)
A Lafayette Police Department vehicle blocks an entrance at the Grand Theatre following a shooting (AP)
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks to the media following the deadly shooting (AP)

The family of the man who shot dead two women and wounded nine others before killing himself at a crowded cinema in the US said he was mentally ill and so violent that they hid his guns and sought police help to keep him away.

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Last night's attack in the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, was the latest mass shootings in the United States and the second in three years at a cinema.

While the shootings have shocked the nation, they have not led to major changes in gun control laws as many Americans see gun ownership as a fundamental, constitutionally protected right.

The gunman, John Russel Houser, 59, stood up about 20 minutes into the film Trainwreck and fired first at two people sitting in front of him, then aimed his handgun at others. Police said they found 13 shell casings.

Then he tried to escape, but when he spotted police officers outside, he turned around and pushed back through the fleeing crowd. Officers followed him into the cinema and heard a single shot before finding him dead inside, police said.

Houser earned degrees in accounting and law before he became estranged from his family years ago, and was staying at a city motel before the attack.

He had parked his car by the cinema's exit door, and disguises including glasses and wigs were found in a search of his motel room, police said. He had also switched the licence plate on his car.

"It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and then escaping," said Lafayette police chief Jim Craft.

Police were looking at online postings they believed Houser wrote to learn more about him and try to figure out his motive.

In the 1990s, he frequently appeared on a local television call-in show, advocating violence against people involved in abortions, said Calvin Floyd, who hosted the show.

Houser also espoused other radical views, including his opposition to women in the workplace. Mr Floyd described Houser as an "angry man" who made "wild accusations" about all sorts of topics.

The two fatalities were identified as Jillian Johnson, 33, an artist and boutique owner and Mayci Breaux, 21, a student at Louisiana State University-Eunice.

At least one of the wounded, ranging from their late teens to their late 60s, was in a critical condition, Mr Craft said. Two were released from the hospital. Three other people were in stable condition.

Cinemagoers said the gunman sat alone and said nothing before he stood up and opened fire at the showing of Trainwreck.

"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," Katie Domingue told a local newspaper. "He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either."

Randall Mann said his 21-year-old daughter, Emily, was sitting in the same row as Houser. She told her father that she did not hear the gunman say anything before opening fire.

"They heard a couple of pops and didn't know what it was," Mr Mann said. "And then they saw the muzzle flashes, and that's when they knew what was going on. She hit the floor immediately." He said his daughter and her friend escaped, uninjured.

Stories of heroism emerged. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who travelled to the scene, said a teacher jumped in front of a second teacher, taking a bullet for her. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert others, he said.

"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," Mr Jindal said.

Houser's family disclosed he had "a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder," according to court documents in 2008, when he made violent threats in an effort to stop his daughter's wedding. A judge granted the family's petition to have him involuntarily committed to a hospital as "a danger to himself and others".

Houser refused to back down after getting out, however, so his wife, daughter and other relatives also obtained a protective order preventing him from coming near them. Houser was living in Alabama, by then, but came and "perpetrated various acts of family violence" at their home in Georgia, they said.

Police were not sure why Houser ended up in Louisiana seven years later. "It just seems like he was kind of drifting along," Mr Craft said.

State police superintendent Col Michael D. Edmonson said there were about 100 people inside the cinema at the time of the shooting.

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

Mr Jindal, a presidential hopeful, called the shooting "an awful night for Louisiana".

President Barack Obama was briefed about the attack while on his way to Africa.

The Louisiana shooting happened three years after James Holmes entered a crowded cinema in Colorado and opened fire during the premiere of a Batman film, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others. The jury found Thursday that the death penalty is justified, and is hearing evidence about James Holmes' schizophrenia before issuing a sentence.

Press Association

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