LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — The family of the man who killed two people and wounded nine others before killing himself at a crowded showing of “Trainwreck” said he was mentally ill and so violent that they hid his guns and sought police help to keep him away, court documents show.
John Russel Houser, 59, stood up about 20 minutes into the movie and fired first at two people sitting in front of him, then aimed his handgun at others, firing at least 13 times, police said Friday.
Then he tried to escape, but when he spotted police officers outside, he turned around and pushed back through the fleeing crowd. The officers tailed him into the theater 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 Motel 6 in Lafayette before the attack.
He parked his 1995 blue Lincoln Continental — with a mismatched license plate — by the theater’s exit door, and disguises including glasses and wigs were found in a search of his motel room, police said.
“It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and then escaping,” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said.
The two fatalities were identified as 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux. At least one of the wounded, ranging from their late teens to their late 60s, was in critical condition, Craft said. Two were released from the hospital.
Theatergoers said the gunman sat alone and said nothing before he stood up and opened fire at Thursday’s 7:10 p.m. showing of “Trainwreck” at the Grand 16 theater.
“We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker,” Katie Domingue told The Advertiser. “He wasn’t saying anything. I didn’t hear anybody screaming either.”
Domingue said she and her fiance ran for the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.
Randall Mann said his 21-year-old daughter, Emily, was sitting in the same row as the shooter. She told her father that she did not hear the shooter say anything before opening fire.
“They heard a couple of pops and didn’t know what it was,” Randall Mann said. “And then they saw the muzzle flashes, and that’s when they knew what was going on. She hit the floor immediately.”
Randall Mann said his daughter and her friend escaped, uninjured but traumatized.
Stories of heroism emerged. Presidential hopeful Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled 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 other moviegoers, he said.
“Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life,” Jindal said.
Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder,” his family said in 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 Phenix City, Alabama, by then, but came and “perpetrated various acts of family violence” at their home in Carroll County, Georgia, they said.
His daughter, Kirbey Ellen Houser, was engaged to Andrew Michael Broome at the time, and though they were 23 and 26, he felt they were too young to be married. “He has exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements” that their marriage would not occur, the filing says.
Police weren’t sure why Houser ended up in Louisiana seven years later.
“It just seems like he was kind of drifting along,” Craft said. He had an uncle that once lived in Lafayette, but he died 35 years ago. “We don’t know why he decided to stop and stay in Lafayette.”
State police superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting. Keys, shoes and purses were all left behind.
About a dozen law enforcement personnel descended on the Motel 6 in Lafayette where Houser had been staying. An officer carried out a cardboard box from the room and other officers could be seen knocking on neighboring doors.
Edmonson said police believe the gunman did not wage any other attacks Thursday night before opening fire in the theater.
“Trainwreck” star Amy Schumer tweeted: “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.” The comedy stars Schumer as a magazine writer who decides to live a life of promiscuity after her father convinces her that monogamy isn’t realistic, but in spite of her best efforts, finds herself falling in love with one of her interview subjects.
Gov. Jindal called the shooting “an awful night for Louisiana.”
“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.”
Outside the theater complex hours after the shooting, several dozen police cars remained at the scene, cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took cellphone photos. Some theater employees stood outside the police perimeter, and a man who identified himself as a general manager asked the media to leave them alone.
Landry Gbery (pronounced Berry), 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.
President Barack Obama was briefed on Air Force One by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa. He asked his team to keep him updated on the investigation and the status of the wounded, and offered his thoughts and prayers to the families of those killed, the White House said.
The Louisiana shooting happened three years after James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of a Batman film, killing 12 people, 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.
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta; Melinda Deslatte in Lafayette, Louisiana; and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.