Lafayette shooting: Gunman ID'd as "kind of a drifter"

Jul 24, 2015 11:40 AM by CBS/AP

Police say a 59-year-old white male, described as "kind of a drifter," was the gunman who shot 11 people at a Lafayette, La., movie theater Thursday night, killing two people before turning the gun on himself.

The gunman was identified as John Russell Houser, who also went by the nickname "Rusty." He was previously from Phenix City, Ala. Police said he had a criminal record from long ago.

Lafayette Mayor Lester Joseph Durel, Jr., said Houser's prior arrests were for arson and a misdemeanor for selling alcohol to a minor, but that he had no arrest record in 10-15 years. "There is nothing else on him," Durel said.

Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said Houser was staying at a local motel, where investigators found wigs, glasses and disguises.

Sheriff Heath Taylor, from Russell County, Alabama, told CBS News that Houser lived in Phenix until 2014, when he was evicted from a rental property on 32nd Street. After being served his eviction notice, Houser destroyed some of the property in the residence. There was a criminal mischief complaint filed, but Sheriff Taylor wasn't sure if an arrest warrant was ever issued.

In 2006 Houser applied for a concealed carry permit, which was denied, because of an arrest record from Columbus, Ga., for arson, and indication of mental issues.

Houser was treated in 2008 and 2009 by East Alabama Mental Health Center.

The Associated Press reports that Houser's wife and other family members had asked for a temporary protective order against him in 2008. Court documents said Houser "exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements."

The documents also said that while he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had traveled to Carroll County in Georgia, where they lived, and "perpetrated various acts of family violence."

Houser "has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder" the filing said.

The filing states that Houser's wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, became "so worried about the defendant's volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence."

The protection order was at least temporarily granted.

In March, the AP reports, she filed for divorce.

No Motive Evident

Police are still searching or a motive for the shooting at the Grand 16 theater Thursday.

According to police, Houser was alone in the screening of the comedy "Trainwreck" when, about 20 minutes into the film, he began indiscriminately firing.

Two women were killed. Nine others were injured, including one still in critical condition.

The dead -- both of whom were sitting in front of Houser when he began firing -- were identified as Mayci Breaux, a 21-year-old white female from Franklin, who was found dead at the scene; and Jillian Johnson, a 33-year-old white female from Lafayette, who died at the hospital.

Craft said it is believed Houser had planned to make his escape after the shooting; his 1995 blue Lincoln Continental was parked near an exit door. However, after blending into the crowd, the arrival of police prompted him to return into the theater, where he died from a self-inflicted wound.

"The quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, at which point he shot himself," said Craft.

Police recovered a .40 caliber handgun at the scene; at least 13 bullets had been discharged in all. No other weapons or devices were found in his car or his room at the Motel 6 where he has been staying since early July.

Craft said there were no indications that Houser had any accomplices, and no known ties to the Lafayette area. Sources say Houser is estranged from his family, and that is complicating the search for answers.

Overnight investigators issued an emergency trace on the .40-caliber handgun used in the shooting, to determine how Houser obtained the gun.

Investigators are asking the public for any information they may have about Houser, and have set up a special 24-hour hot line to call: (337) 291 8650.

Victims Not Targeted

Investigators said the shooting appears to have been random.

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

Domingue said she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.

Lucas Knepper was seated in the same row as the gunman. Knepper told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca there were several empty seats between them.

"We look to the left and it's the shooter just standing up just shooting at the whole crowd," Knepper said. "He was, like, 6-7 seats down from us. ... He just looked like a common guy off the streets, good looking guy, just normal ... (with) white hair white facial hair. And said nothing."

Witnesses heard popping noises and saw flashes of light, reports Villafranca. Some people ran out without their shoes and abandoned their belongings.

Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene about an hour west of the state capital of Baton Rouge within hours of the shooting, telling reporters a teacher who was in the theater 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.

"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," the 2016 presidential hopeful said.

The shooting took place a week after James Holmes, the man who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., was convicted, and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.

State Police Superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand.

"We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here," Edmonson said.

He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter's car and that a bomb-sniffing dog "hit on three different locations" in the vehicle, "so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad."

No explosives were found in the car or in the theater complex.

"What we can do now is we can pray," Jindal said. "We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers."

President Obama was briefed on the shooting aboard Air Force One by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa for a two-nation visit, the White House said.

Mr. Obama asked his team to keep him updated on the investigation and the status of those wounded. He also offered his thoughts and prayers to the community and to the families of those who were killed.

Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.

A small group of theater employees stood outside the police perimeter. A man who identified himself as a general manager declined to be interviewed: "We would appreciate it if you could give us some space," he said.

Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, "Self/less" at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and they needed to leave.

Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.

"I was really anxious for everybody at that point," Gbery said. "Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit."

Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.

"In that moment, you don't think about anything," Clark, 36, told The New York Times. "That's when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important."

Clark's son, Robert Martinez, said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.


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