[Breaking news update at 8:52 a.m. ET]
The Lafayette, Louisiana, movie theater shooter was 59-year-old John Russel Houser, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said Friday.
Craft described Houser as “kind of a drifter” who was from Alabama and had been in Lafayette since early July, staying at a local hotel. Authorities have found various “disguises, basically” at the hotel room where he’d been staying.
Houser fired at least 13 rounds, according to the police chief.
“It appears he was intent on shooting and escaping,” Clark said of the shooter. “The quick law enforcement response pushed him back into the theater.”
As to his motive, Col. Michael Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police said, “Why did he come here? Why did he do that? We don’t know that.”
Mayci Breaux, 21, died at the scene, and Jillian Johnson, 33, died later at a nearby hospital, according to Craft.
“He was a guy that was a drifter … that just happened to be in this theater and took two beautiful lives,” Edmonson said of Houser. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that these 2 individuals had a vision, had a name, had a future. It wasn’t to die as they did horribly in this theater here.”
[Original story published at 8:05 a.m. ET]
As the previews ended and the lights dimmed for the screening of the comedy “Trainwreck,” a man stood up inside a Louisiana movie theater, pulled out a handgun and began firing indiscriminately.
The shooter, a 58-year-old man, killed two people and wounded nine others at the Lafayette multiplex Thursday night before he turned his gun on himself and took his own life, police said.
The shooting comes within days of the guilty verdict in the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre.
“There’s nothing to believe that there was any kind of motive,” said Col. Michael Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police.
“We want to talk to the (victims’) families first and let them know what happened,” Edmonson said. “We owe them that respect.”
The witnesses: ‘Gunshots after gunshots’
About 100 people had sat down to watch the 7:10 p.m. screening of “Trainwreck” at the Grand Theater 16 in Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 people about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge, when the bullets flew.
Jalen Fernell was in a theater next door.
“I almost thought it was part of the movie at first,” Fernell said of the gunshots.
An alarm went off, followed by an overhead intercom message asking patrons to get out.
Jordan Broussard first thought a fire had broken out when the alarm went off, lights came on and message rang out overhead. It wasn’t until he got outside, heard sirens blaring and saw a woman lying with a gunshot wound to her leg that he realized it was much more than that.
The gravity of the situation dawned on him a few minutes later, when he heard an officer say, “‘Get to Theater 14, we have some men down at Theater 14, we need an ambulance.'”
“That was when we were like, wow, this is crazy,” the 19-year-old Lafayette native told CNN’s “New Day.” “…Coming to a movie on a Thursday night, we never expected that we would see a crime scene and a gunman (in our) theater. It’s a very sad night.”
The auditorium: ‘The guy was just kind of at ease’
A man who’d gone to see “Trainwreck” told Keifer Sanders, who was in a nearby auditorium, that it was quiet before the gunfire began, right before the movie started.
“There was no argument, nothing going on at all. And a guy just stood up and started opening fire,” Sanders said. “The guy was just kind of at ease, just standing there, just shooting.”
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft backed up the account.
“He bought a ticket and went into the theater. And sometime during the movie, he started shooting,” he said.
The moviegoers included two teachers enjoying the last few days of the summer break.
When the bullets flew, one shielded the other and may have saved her life.
“Her friend literally jumped over her,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, after speaking with the unnamed teacher. “If her friend hadn’t done that, she believed the bullet would have hit her in the head.”
A bullet struck her leg instead, but she managed to get to a fire alarm and pull it.
“When you think about it — two friends together — one jumps in the way of a bullet to save her friend’s life,” Jindal said from the scene of the shooting. “The other, even though she was shot in the leg, she had the presence of mind to pull the fire alarm and in the process saved other people’s lives.”
‘An awful night for the United States’
By the time four officers entered the theater, the gunman was dead.
“It appears the shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after discharging his weapon numerous times,” Craft said.
The nine injured range in age from late teens to “probably into the 60s,” Craft said. One victim has been released; another is in surgery and is “not doing well,” he said early Friday morning.
Bomb squads swept the theater and the parking lot. Police temporarily closed a nearby Grand theater and deployed officers to other movie houses as a precaution.
“Whenever we hear about these senseless acts of violence, it makes us both furious and sad at the same time,” Jindal said.
“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.”
Movie star: ‘My heart is broken’
The shooting occurred seven days after the conviction of James Holmes in the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting that left 12 people dead and 70 people wounded.
On July 20, 2012, Holmes opened fire during a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” using an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one .40-caliber handgun. The rampage ended with the once promising neuroscience student’s arrest outside the theater.
Security measures were stepped up at some cinemas after the Aurora shooting. Still, theaters across the United States fundamentally remain freewheeling places, where ticket holders can wander in and out, unbothered by the intense security measures that now typify airports and public buildings. Ticket sales also didn’t slump.
Southern Theatres, a New Orleans-based theater chain that owns The Grand, had no immediate comment about the Thursday night shooting. Universal, the distributor of “Trainwreck,” declined to comment.
But the movie’s star, Amy Schumer, tweeted, “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.”
Police chief: ‘We may now never know’ why
While the shooter may have taken his motive with him with his death, the investigation is far from complete. Authorities will pore over his digital footprint, talk to his family and friends, and retrace his movements to answer the burning question: Why?
“This kind of stuff just leaves you wondering,” said Craft, the Lafayette police chief. “Why would a guy come into a theater in this city — we have a relatively safe city — and just, you know, randomly start shooting people? It’s hard to figure out. He’s deceased, so we may now never know.”
The gunman had a criminal history, but it dates back several years, Craft said. He didn’t elaborate.
Authorities will also put together a profile of the shooter, search his house and trace the gun, said CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin.
For now, said Gov. Jindal, “we can pray.”
“We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers.”