LAFAYETTE, LA (WAFB) - Officials have completed processing the scene in their investigation into a deadly shooting at a Lafayette theater and provided updates Friday evening explaining what they have learned so far.
The two victims who died in the 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. Officials in Alabama said Houser was treated for mental illness in 2008 and 2009.
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Investigators said they have learned the shooter did not enter the theater through the front lobby, but through a side door where he parked his car. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said according to witnesses, he then went back into the theater when a police unit pulled up, fired some more rounds and then took his life.
"It appears that the shooter actually took his time and was somewhat methodical as he shot folks from the top of the back of the theater," Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
He added he has been alternating between grief, sadness and anger. He also said this is a time to focus on the victims and their families, as everyone tries to "make sense out of a senseless act." Jindal said the act was barbaric.
The mass theater shooting left nine people injured. Five people remain hospitalized, including one victim who is listed in critical condition at a Lafayette hospital. The other four victims are listed in stable condition. Four of the victims taken to the hospital have been treated and released. The nine injured in the shooting range in age from late teens to early 60s.
Officials at Lafayette General Medical Center said five patients were sent to their facility. Two of those were immediately released. The other three are all listed in stable condition. One of those is in intensive care. They said the other six victims went to two other hospitals in the area. Officials also said one of the victims was shot in the stomach, while the other patients had injuries to the arms, legs, etc. They said a Lafayette General employee who was at the theater transported one victim in his own vehicle.
According to Craft, the police officers were equipped with first-responder kits and used them on the wounded victims, which helped stop some of the bleeding and stabilized the victims so they could be taken to the hospital. Craft said 12 ambulances were at the scene within six minutes. Authorities will continue to hold the scene throughout the weekend.
The shooting happened around 7 p.m. Thursday at the Grand 16 Theatre on Johnson Street in Lafayette. Houser died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before police were able to get into the theater. Craft said ATF has confirmed the weapon used was a high-point, .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. He added it was purchased at a pawn shop in Phenix City, Alabama in February 2014 and that ATF said the purchase was legal.
Craft said that Houser had two magazines that were probably fully loaded. He fired all 20 rounds, and out of those he shot 11 people. Some victims suffered multiple wounds, including one guy who was shot four times.
Officials said 15 shell casings were recovered from various areas of the theater. Investigators have reportedly determined which seats people were in once they were shot. They will interview victims to be able to recreate the setting of the theater before the shooting. Craft said they know the shooter hit a number of people in the first burst of gun fire and went out the side door. He supposedly saw the police car, dropped a magazine and inserted another. Houser then went back inside the theater and fired four more times. Police think at least one more person was hit in the second round of gun fire.
Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, described it as "a horrific scene in there." Authorities hope to open a counseling shelter in Lafayette on Monday to provide services to people who need to talk about the tragedy.
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 believe Houser made it into Louisiana on July 2 or July 3. Craft said he has been "up and down the interstate a few times." Investigators said his record showed he was arrested on an arson charge and a misdemeanor about 10 or 15 years ago.
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.
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 emergency 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.
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. Troopers said he had been staying there since the beginning of the month. Officials said a search of the car turned up wigs, glasses and other items that could be used to disguise his identity.
Craft said there have been calls about the alleged shooter that have resulted in leads. He said businesses in the Lafayette area and even in Lake Charles have contacted authorities with information. Craft added there were 300 people inside the Grand 16 Theater at the time of shooting and that 25 tickets had been sold for "Trainwreck." He also said of those 300 people inside the theater at the time, 160 have been interviewed. According to police, there was no security inside of the theater, and the first two officers on the scene were on patrol and stopped to exchange paperwork when the call came in.
Authorities said Houser spoke to people about maybe opening a business in Lafayette. Craft said journals were found in his hotel room that investigators are going through to figure out what happened. Police are "keeping an open mind" about associates. They are also looking at other theaters to see if Houser went anywhere else.
The Lafayette Police Department and Louisiana State Police are working together on the investigation.