LAFAYETTE, LA (WAFB) - The two victims who died in the Lafayette theater shooting were identified as Mayci Breaux, 21, of Franklin, who died at the scene, and Jillian Johnson, 33, of Lafayette, who died at the hospital. The shooter has been identified as John Russell Houser, 59, whose last known address was Phenix City, Alabama.
The mass theater shooting left nine others injured, including one victim who remained in critical condition at a Lafayette hospital as of 7:30 a.m. Two of the victims taken to the hospital have been released. The nine injured in the shooting range in age from late teens to early 60s.
The shooting happened around 7 p.m. Thursday at the Grand 16 Theater on Johnson Street in Lafayette. Houser died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before police were able to get into the theater. Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, said a total of 13 shots were fired. He added a .40 caliber handgun was found at the scene. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said 12 ambulances were at the scene within six minutes.
Officials with Louisiana State Police said the bomb squad cleared the theater and CSI collected evidence to try and piece together information to determine why this happened. Authorities said crime scene technicians worked through the night, describing the scene as "pretty horrific." Investigators are trying to trace the gunman's steps for the past few days and their main focus right now is to gather the evidence. They said his record showed he was arrested on an arson charge and a misdemeanor about 10 or 15 years ago.
"This guy was a drifter who happened to be in this theater and took two beautiful lives," Edmonson said.
Officials said about 100 people were inside the theater for a screening of Trainwreck when Houser began shooting. The motive for the shooting is unknown at this time. Police said he waited about 20 minutes into the movie before he stood up and opened fire. Craft said the shooter was by himself at the theater and the first two people shot were sitting directly in front of him. He added after the shots were fired, people started rushing out.
"This kind of thing leaves you wondering," Craft said. "Why would a guy come in a theater in this city? We have a relatively safe city - and just randomly start shooting people. It's hard to figure out and he's deceased, so we might not ever know."
Craft said investigators know he was trying to leave and they think he saw two officers who were on the scene within a minute because they were there in the parking lot. According to witnesses, he had turned around and moved against the crowd after possibly spotting the officers. Officials said he parked his car near an exit and had intentions of leaving alive. They also a police dog detected explosives in the car, but investigators said no devices were found in Houser's blue 1995 Lincoln Continental. They added the license plate had been switched on his vehicle.
"I don't know how far into the movie he started shooting," Randall Mann with Acadian Ambulance said. "They thought it was something from the movie. Then, they noticed the flashes of light. That's when everyone noticed and started to run out of the theater."
About a dozen law enforcement personnel were gathered at a Motel 6 in Lafayette early Friday morning, combing through a room where the gunman stayed, according to state police. Trooper said he had been staying there since the beginning of the month. Witnesses said officers took a cardboard box from the room and were knocking on the doors of neighboring rooms. Officials said a search of the car turned up wigs, glasses and other items that could be used to disguise his identity.
He also said anyone who knows Houser should call 337-291-8650 to give authorities whatever information they know about him. Officials have contacted his family members and visited his home in Alabama. They said he seemed to be estranged from his family.
"I want to thank all the law enforcement," Gov. Bobby Jindal said. "Federal, state, local you see everyone working together here. Today is a day that not only angers but also saddens all of us. This should never happen anywhere, but you certainly never imagine, we never imagine it would happen in Louisiana, never imagine it would happen in Lafayette."
Amy Schumer, the star of Trainwreck, tweeted her support for the community Thursday night.
"My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana."
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell issued the following statement in response to the shooting:
"Last night, Louisiana became the latest in a terribly long line of states where an obviously unstable individual saw fit to strike out at innocent citizens, killing and wounding many and destroying the lives of their families. These acts are unspeakable tragedies for so many. We must reach out to the survivors and the families of all victims with prayers and assistance, and offer prayers for the souls of those departed. We must also increase our efforts to establish additional mental health alternatives, which can identify and control unstable and violent persons. Teachers, often the daily heroes of our youth, were heroes for everyone last night in the midst of this terrible tragedy. Thank God for their courage."
According to Jindal, it was a heartbreaking night as family members rushed to the hospital hoping their child or loved one wasn't seriously injured. He added the people of Louisiana get very angry when senseless acts of violence like this happens.
Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel said Lafayette was named the happiest city in America and will become the happiest city again. He added everyone in the community is family.