The gunman who went on a shooting rampage at a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater Thursday night was a drifter who had been arrested in the past for arson charges, according to The Associated Press.
The shooter, 59-year-old John Russel Houser, shot dead two people and wounded nine more on Thursday. After trying to make a getaway, he committed suicide at the scene.
The two victims who were killed have been identified as 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux.
Police have not released a motive for the shooting. “It just seems like he was kind of drifting along,” said Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft. “We don't know why he decided to stop and stay in Lafayette.”
Officials who searched the motel in Lafayette where Mr. Houser had been staying since early July found disguises, the AP reported. Among the items were glasses and wigs.
According to police records, Houser had a criminal history stretching back 10 to 15 years, which also includes minor infractions such as selling alcohol to a minor.
Court records in Alabama, where Houser is from, also show he had filed a small claims case in 2004, which was settled after he argued he was injured from donating plasma at a Phenix City donation center and asked for money to pay for medical treatment.
Witnesses said Houser had been sitting in the cinema by himself in the 7:10 p.m. showing of “Trainwreck” when he stood up about 20 minutes into the movie and began shooting into the crowd.
According to police, Houser fired his handgun 13 times before trying to escape. He had already parked his car near the exit of the theater and tried to blend into the crowd of screaming people.
Katie Domingue, who had been at the same showing, said she heard about six shots before she and her fiancé ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse, reported The Advertiser.
“We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker,” she said.
Tanya Clark, who was at the theater to see another film, told The New York Times she was at the concession stand with her three children when she saw people running and screaming.
She said she grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran, leaving behind her purse and phone.
“I just grabbed her arm,” she said. “In that moment, you don’t think about anything. That’s when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important.”
“I thought it was just a joke,” her son, 17-year-old Robert Martinez, told the Times. “People were screaming.”
Once Houser saw police heading inside, he turned back. Officers heard a single gunshot, and found him dead.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has called for prayers for the families of the victims.
“This is an awful night for Lafayette. This is an awful night for Louisiana. This is an awful night for the United States. But we will get through this,” he said at a Thursday night news conference.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.