UPDATED WRITETHRU 1:10 PM SATURDAY: The Louisiana theater where a gunman shot and killed 2 moviegoers and wounded 9 others before taking his own life remained closed Saturday, a rep from the Lafayette Police Department said this afternoon. He also said police did not know when the theater might reopen as the investigation continues. Following the tragedy three years ago in Aurora, Colorado, that theater didn’t reopen until months later, after remodeling and reconfiguration of the multiplex layout.
Lafayette police said John Houser, a 59-year-old with a history of mental problems, stood up in the theater auditorium as the comedy film Trainwreck was about to start and began firing a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said the man tried to leave by the back exit but went back inside when he saw officers already were on the scene. He then shot himself inside the theater.
The shootings happened at the Grand Theatre, a 16-screen complex owned by Southern Theatres. Craft said the gunman fired at least 15 rounds. “It appears he was intent on shooting and escaping,” the police chief said. “The quick law enforcement response pushed him back into the theater.” He added that the gunman’s car was parked right out the emergency exit.
Craft today identified the two women killed in the attack as Mayci Breaux, 21, who died at the scene, and Jillian Johnson, 33, who died later at a hospital. Nine others were wounded, including one who was shot four times. Craft said today that five victims remain hospitalized, four in stable condition and one still critical; he added that he hopes that victim’s condition will be upgraded to “guarded” by tonight. He said four others have been treated and released.
David Callecod, president of the Lafayette General Medical Center, said at a news conference earlier today that his facility treated five gunshot victims. He said two were released Thursday night, one underwent surgery and another was admitted to intensive care. Callecod said all three remaining patients are in stable condition and are expected to make full recoveries. He noted that Breaux was about to start radiology school at Lafayette General and had toured the facility and met several staffers two weeks ago.
Louisiana State Police confirmed there was no second shooter and that no motive is known as the investigation continues. There were about 25 people in the theater at the time of the shooting, which occurred at 7:30 PM CT.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was on the scene Thursday night with local FBI officials, Louisiana state police and local police and sheriff’s deputies. Jindal said at a news conference that two of the wounded were teachers, one of whom was shot when she dove in front of the other. Both were hit by gunfire, but one was able to pull the fire alarm.
Lafayette is about 40 miles west of Baton Rouge. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette is just down the street from the theater.
Trainwreck star Amy Schumer tweeted her sorrow about the shootings:
The film’s director Judd Apatow also reacted to the tragedy: “One of the reasons we make these movies is because the world can be so horrifying and we all need to laugh just to deal with it,” he said. “So to have this happen in a room where people were smiling and laughing devastates me. My thoughts and love go out to the victims and anyone touched by this madness or any madness. We, as a country, need to find a way to do better,” he said in a statement.
Trainwreck distributor Universal Pictures said today in a statement: “All of us at Universal Pictures send our heartfelt sympathies to the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families in Louisiana.”
Officials at the Grand Theatre also issued a statement today: “All of us offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims and the community of Lafayette. We are grateful to all local officials and to the governor for their efforts.” Multiplex owner Southern Theatres, the eighth-largest chain in the U.S., has yet to comment on the incident.
Craft described the shooter as “a kind of drifter’ who was from Alabama and had been in Lafayette since early July, staying in a local motel. Authorities said various disguises were found in his room.
NBC News reported today that the gunman had appeared several times on a morning talk show that aired on one of its Georgia affiliates. Calvin Floyd, who hosted Rise & Shine on WLTZ Columbus, told NBC News this morning that the gunman was known to be volatile and had extreme political views. “He was on from time to time because he was a very radical person with radical views,” Floyd said. “He was a Republican and then I would have someone with a real strong Democrat view on … He was very entertaining. He made for good TV and when it was over, you would leave shaking your head.”
The shooting came three years and three days after a man went on a gun-fueled rampage in a theater in Aurora, CO, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. That incident left 12 people dead and 70 injured. Hours before the Lafayette shootings, a jury found that the Aurora shooter, convicted just last week on all 165 counts including 24 for first-degree murder, is eligible for the death penalty. In January 2014, a retired police captain shot and killed a man in a Tampa movie theater who had been texting during previews. In the ensuing argument the victim reportedly threw popcorn at the man, who then shot him in the chest.
“Going to a summer movie is a celebration of the American creative spirit and one of our nation’s most beloved pastimes,” the Los Angeles-based American Film Institute said in a statement Thursday night. “Let us stand together in these times of tragedy and embrace what is precious to us — churches, schools and places where the arts can send our spirits soaring. As a national community of artists and audiences, AFI offers our heartfelt sympathies to the victims in Louisiana and their families.”