Three people were killed and nine were injured in a shooting Thursday night at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. Police were on the scene several minutes after the shooting started, and they found the gunman dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The two victims who died are 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, who died at the theater, and 33-year-old Jillian Johnson, who died at a nearby hospital. One of those injured is in critical condition; two other victims are well enough to have been released from the hospital.
Lafayette police chief Jim Craft called the scene “pretty horrific.”
The gunman was described as a 59-year-old “lone white male” with a criminal history. On Friday, he was identified as John Russell Houser from Alabama. He had been staying in a Motel 6 in the area for a few weeks; police found wigs and disguises inside his room, and a car with switched plates parked out front.
— Seth Dickerson (@SDickersonTDA) July 24, 2015
He was sitting alone in the theater and used a semiautomatic handgun, hitting the people in front of him first. “He bought a ticket and went into the theater. And sometime during the movie, he started shooting,” Craft said.
Witness Katie Domingue told the Daily Advertiser that the shooting occurred at the 7 p.m. showing of Trainwreck. About 20 minutes into the film, she saw “an older white man” stand up and start shooting. “We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker,” she said. “He wasn’t saying anything. I didn’t hear anybody screaming either.” She bolted for the exit, leaving her shoes and purse.
Thirty-two-year-old Josh Doggett, who had been on a date with his fiancée, told NBC Los Angeles that “a lot of the people thought it was part of the film” at first. “There was a pause but then when the second happened, everyone started climbing over the seats.” Doggett described the shooter as “kind of a middle-aged gentleman in a polo shirt.”
Witnesses in adjacent theaters said they heard faint gunshots and took off running after they were told over the intercom to evacuate. Jalen Fernell, 20, said once he exited the building he saw one of the victims. “I saw a woman lying on the ground outside with blood everywhere. She was shot in the leg,” Fernell said. Theatergoers scattered again as they saw armed police charging into the building. “We didn’t know what to do. You’re scared to walk through the parking lot, you don’t know if the guy’s in a car, hiding in the parking lot,” Fernell said.
Authorities assume that Houser was attempting to escape when police arrived on the scene about a minute after the shooting, according to the Daily Advertiser. He instead retreated back into the theater and shot himself.
State police, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene in Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 located in southwestern Louisiana. At a press conference, Governor Bobby Jindal said, “As governor, as a father and a husband, whenever we see these senseless acts of violence it makes us both furious and sad at the same time.” He added, “We will get through this. We are a resilient community. This is an awful night for Lafayette. This is an awful night for Louisiana. This is an awful night for the United States.” Jindal also described the heroic actions of two teachers, who were identified by a colleague as Jena Meaux and Ali Martin. One woman jumped on her friend to shield her, and while they were both injured, the second woman said she believes the action saved her life. The second woman then pulled the fire alarm. “A lot of folks in that situation would just be thinking about themselves,” Jindal said. “She had the presence of mind to think, all right, even though she was shot in the leg, she saved other people.” Amy Schumer, who wrote and stars in Trainwreck, tweeted:
My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.
— Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) July 24, 2015
The shooting — which comes three days after the third anniversary of the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting and just weeks after the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee — had many talking about gun control on Thursday night. Louisiana has relatively lax gun laws and one of the highest rates of gun deaths in the nation. It’s also one of only four states where homicides make up a larger share of gun deaths than suicides.
In an interview with the BBC recorded just hours before the Louisiana shooting, President Obama said he’s “frustrated” by his failure to get stricter gun laws passed, and he intends to keep pressing the issue.
“If you ask me where has been the one area where I feel that I’ve been most frustrated and most stymied, it is the fact that the United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient commonsense gun safety laws even in the face of repeated mass killings,” he said, adding that far more Americans are killed by gun violence than by terrorism. “For us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that’s distressing, but it’s not something I intend to stop working on in the remaining 18 months.”
Obama was briefed on the shooting from Air Force One; he was on his way to Africa. He told officials to keep him updated on the status of the victims, and offered his thoughts and prayers for the people in Lafayette.