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The Wall Street Journal
By Cameron McWhirter – Cameron.McWhirter@wsj.com and Ana Campoy
The gunman who police say killed two women and wounded nine other people in a Louisiana movie theater Thursday night had a history of legal problems, as well as mental health issues that once prompted his former wife to remove guns and weapons from their home, according to court records.
John R. Houser was denied a permit in 2006 to carry a concealed weapon, according to Heath Taylor, sheriff of Russell County, Alabama, where Mr. Houser applied for the permit. His now ex-wife and other family members were granted a protective order from him in 2008. Mr. Houser, who sometimes went by the name Rusty, also apparently held extreme political views, according to letters-to-the-editor and social-media postings attributed to him.
Police have identified Mr. Houser, 59 years old, as the man who fired a semiautomatic handgun into the crowd at a 7:10 p.m. showing of the movie “Trainwreck” at the Grand 16 theater in Lafayette, La. While trying to blend in the crowd and leave the theater, he was spotted by police and went back inside, where he shot himself to death, police said. The shooter began firing about 20 minutes into the movie, at around 7:30 p.m., Central Time.
The shooting comes about a week after a jury convicted James Holmes of shooting and killing 12 people and wounding 70 others during a midnight screening of the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., in July 2012. A trial in civil court is scheduled for July 2016 to determine the culpability of Cinemark Holdings Inc.,CNK -1.61 % which operated the theater where the shooting occurred.
The Louisiana shooting also follows two recent, high-profile incidents involving gun violence: one at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. and another at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Police identified the victims of the shooting at the Grand 16 theater as 33-year-old Jillian Johnson of Lafayette, La., and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux of Franklin, La. Nine others were wounded in the attack, according to police. Of those, two have been released and one remains in critical condition.
Ms. Johnson was known in Lafayette, where she lived with her husband, as a musician, business owner and advocate of southern Louisiana culture. A message on Friday on the website of a business she co-owned with her husband read, “Our hearts are shattered. We will love you forever. She was a once-in-a-lifetime gal. A mother, daughter, sister and a truly exceptional wife.”
Ms. Breaux was a student at Louisiana State University-Eunice, where she was training to be an X-ray technician, according to an uncle, Chris Barrilleaux. She was preparing for her finals on Monday and was supposed to begin clinical training soon. She had attended the movie Thursday night with her boyfriend, likely seeking to have some fun before a weekend of hitting the books, Mr. Barrilleaux said. “Mayci was an angel,” he said. “She was the most perfect young lady you would ever meet in your life.”
It’s unclear how Thursday’s shooting might affect security at U.S. theaters. No sweeping changes were implemented at theaters nationwide following the Aurora shooting, though the attack did contribute to studios’ decision to begin adding earlier screening times ahead of Thursday-night midnight openings. The Aurora shooting occurred during a midnight opening, while this latest shooting occurred at a 7:10 p.m. showing of a movie that had been running for two weeks.
Representatives at the nation’s three-largest exhibitors— Cinemark, Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.—didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday. The Grand Theatre, which is owned by New Orleans-based exhibitor Southern Theatres LLC, said, “All of us offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims and to the community of Lafayette.”
Police are trying to figure out why the suspect fired in a theater in Lafayette. Mr. Houser spent most of his life living in and around Columbus, Ga., and across the Chattahoochee River in Phenix City, Ala., according to records.
James Ivins, a 64-year-old neighbor who lived near Mr. Houser in Phenix City, described him as eccentric, sometimes warning Mr. Ivins about how the global economy was collapsing. Mr. Houser flew a small Confederate battle flag outside his house, Mr. Ivins said.
Russ Lenig, 44, said he saw Mr. Houser drive around the neighborhood on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Mr. Lenig, who lives two doors down from Mr. Houser’s house, said Mr. Houser often left trash in the yard, angering neighbors.
Mr. Houser came from a prominent Columbus, Ga. family and his father was once county tax commissioner, a post that Mr. Houser ran for unsuccessfully in the 1990s. He attended Columbus State University, from 1985 to 1988, graduating with an accounting degree. He later attended the law school of Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., graduating in 1991.
Roger Boutwell, a retired chiropractor who lived next to Mr. Houser’s mother, described Mr. Houser as having “the most beautiful crystal blue eyes you’d ever looked at” and “bad anger issues.” Over the years, Mr. Boutwell saw Mr. Houser grapple with his personal relationships and finances—and tried to help him by lending him money or a sympathetic ear. Mr. Houser never failed to pay back the loans, and would bake him a cake or pie on top of that.
“Since he was little he was a firecracker,” he said. “He could go off at any moment.”
On one occasion, when Mr. Boutwell was bed-ridden after a motorcycle accident, Mr. Houser mowed his overgrown lawn, for free and without being asked.
But Mr. Boutwell never knew Mr. Houser to hold a stable job.
On his LinkedIn page, Mr. Houser described himself as an entrepreneur, but his last substantial employment appeared to have been when he owned a bar in LaGrange, Ga., from 1998 to 2000.
A person who took accounting classes with Mr. Houser at Columbus State said that after school, Mr. Houser “always had get-rich-quick schemes.” The man had not spoken to Mr. Houser in several years, he said.
In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Houser was a fixture at Columbus city council meetings and local talk shows, recalled Bobby Peters, a superior court judge in Georgia and former mayor. He took on a variety of issues—from what he saw as excessive water rates to pornography to the city budget—and argued his positions intelligently, said Mr. Peters.
Meanwhile, his personal life was in turmoil. Mr. Houser became estranged from his mother after she sided with his wife in an argument, said Mr. Boutwell. His temper worsened, he added, recalling one incident in which he hit an employee at a golf course with a club during a confrontation. In 2012, he divorced his wife, the family’s bread winner, and was left without an income or a home, he said.
Their relationship had long been troubled In October 2005, Mr. Houser’s wife filed a domestic violence complaint against Mr. Houser with the police department, but he was never prosecuted, said Mr. Taylor, the Russell County sheriff. In 2006, Mr. Houser applied for a concealed-carry permit with the sheriff’s office and was denied due to the domestic violence complaint as well as a 1989 arrest related to arson, Mr. Taylor said.
In 2008, Mr. Houser’s wife and other family members sought a protective order in a Georgia court against Mr. Houser after he made threats about stopping the impending marriage of his daughter, according to papers filed with the court. Family members stated in court filings that Mr. Houser had committed violence against the family in the past and had “a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder.” They also stated that he “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements” to family members. Ms. Houser was so frightened by Mr. Houser’s “volatile mental state” that she took guns and weapons from their home, according to records.Mr. Houser’s ex-wife could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Myra LeAnna Smith, said her client “was shaken up by the entire incident,” and had not seen Mr. Hauser in many years.
In a Carrollton, Ga., police report filed with the request for protection, an officer wrote that Ms. Houser told him she had taken all guns from their house and Mr. Houser “and he should not have one unless he obtained it illegally.”
The family had him involuntarily committed in 2008 to a psychiatric facility. Ms. Houser told the officer that Mr. Houser was on anti-depressant medication, but sometimes forgot to take his pills. The officer met with Mr. Houser, who denied harassing anyone.
—Erich Schwartzel, Lindsay Ellis, Arian Campo-Flores, Lisa Schwartz and Charles Lampach contributed to this article.
Corrections & Amplifications
The suspect was 59 years old. An earlier online version of this story said he was 58. Also, the film being watched during the 2012 Colorado theater shooting was “The Dark Knight Rises.” An earlier online version of this article incorrectly identified the movie as “The Dark Night Returns.”
Write to Cameron McWhirter at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ana Campoy at email@example.com
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Lafayette shooting: Gunman ID’d as “kind of a drifter”— (CBS News)
Updated on: July 24, 2015 / 6:54 PM / CBS/AP
Police say a 59-year-old white male, described as “kind of a drifter,” was the gunman who shot 11 people at a Lafayette, La., movie theater Thursday night, killing two people before turning the gun on himself.
No motive is known for why John Russell Houser, 59, shot 11 people at a Louisiana movie theater, killing two women, before killing himself.
John Russell Houser, who also went by the nickname “Rusty,” was described by associates and family members as unstable.
In 2006 Houser applied for a concealed carry permit, which was denied, because of an arrest record and an indication of mental issues.
Lafayette Mayor Lester Joseph Durel, Jr., said Houser’s prior arrests were for arson and a misdemeanor for selling alcohol to a minor, but that he had no arrest record in 10-15 years.
Formerly a resident of Phenix City, Ala., Houser had been staying since early July at a local motel, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said. It was there that, following last night’s shooting at the Grand 16 theater, investigators found wigs, glasses and disguises.
In 2008 Houser’s wife and other family members asked for a temporary protective order against him. Court documents said Houser “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”
The documents also said that while he lived in Phenix City, he had traveled to Carroll County in Georgia, where they lived, and “perpetrated various acts of family violence.”
Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder” the filing said. The documents also state that Houser’s wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, became “so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”
The protection order was at least temporarily granted. Also in 2008 and 2009, Houser was treated by East Alabama Mental Health Center.
In March Kellie filed for divorce.
Sheriff Heath Taylor, from Russell County, Alabama, told CBS News that Houser lived in Phenix until 2014, when he was evicted from a rental property on 32nd Street. After being served his eviction notice, Houser destroyed some of the property in the residence. There was a criminal mischief complaint filed, but Sheriff Taylor wasn’t sure if an arrest warrant was ever issued.
Authorities are investigating web postings that appear to have been written by Houser, in which he espouses right-wing, reactionary politics. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Houser wrote approvingly of Adolf Hitler, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the Westboro Baptist Church, and made racist statements about blacks.
“America is so sick that I now believe it to be the enemy of the world.” – Comment posted by Rusty Houser on fellowshipoftheminds.com
On the website stateofmind13.com, in the comments of an article about the adoration of Hitler, Rusty Houser wrote:
“Hitler is loved for the results of his pragmatism. There is no question of his being the most successful that ever lived. At this time the US is no more than a financially failing filth farm. Soon the phrase ‘ruling with an iron hand’ will be palatable anew.”
And on a site devoted to the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, he wrote:
“I do not want to discourage the last hope for the best, but you must realize the power of the lone wolf, is the power that can come forth in ALL situations. Look within yourselves.”
Houser graduated from the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., in 1998, prior to the law school receiving ABA accreditation. However, he was not licensed to practice law in either Alabama or Georgia, and there is no indication he ever took those states’ bar exams.
According to his Linkedin page he has owned/operated two bars: the Peachtree Pub in Columbia, Ga., in 1979-80; and Rusty’s Buckhead Pub in Lagrange, Ga., in 1998-2000.
In 1993 Houser made several appearances as guest host of a morning show on WLTZ, an NBC affiliate in Phenix City, called “Rise and Shine.” On his Linkedin page Houser wrote of his appearances, “Invited political controversy on every one of them, and loved every minute of it.”
Thestation wrote that an investigation by WLTZ into Houser’s background did not turn up a criminal record, though a former business partner of Houser had stated that he seemed “a bit unstable.”
political activist who was vocal on local tax issues, Houser — son of the late Rembert Houser, a longtime Columbus city tax commissioner — once ran for the office himself, the Ledger-Enquirer stated, but withdrew from the race after being charged with stealing an opponent’s yard signs.
Speaking to the paper, Superior Court Judge (and former Columbus Mayor) Bobby Peters remembered Houser’s sitting in on city council meetings: “He was very outspoken, highly intelligent, really didn’t trust government and anything about government. He always thought something was going on behind the scenes. He came across with a very conservative agenda.”
No Motive Evident
Police are still searching or a motive for the shooting at the Grand 16 theater Thursday.
According to police, Houser was alone in the screening of the comedy “Trainwreck” when, about 20 minutes into the film, he began indiscriminately firing.
Two women were killed. Nine others were injured.
Mayci Breaux (left) and Jillian Johnson were murdered at the Grand 16 theatre in Lafayette, La.
The dead — both of whom were sitting in front of Houser when he began firing — were identified as Mayci Breaux, a 21-year-old white female from Franklin, who was found dead at the scene; and Jillian Johnson, a 33-year-old white female from Lafayette, who died at the hospital.
At a press conference Friday afternoon, doctors at Lafayette General Hospital said that out of five patients brought in last night, two have been discharged, and one previously listed in critical condition is now stable.
Craft said it is believed Houser had planned to make his escape after the shooting; his 1995 blue Lincoln Continental was parked near an exit door. However, after blending into the crowd, the arrival of police prompted him to return into the theater, where he died from a self-inflicted wound.
Houser dropped one magazine from his weapon in the lobby and reloaded before re-entering the theater.
“The quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, at which point he shot himself,” said Craft.
Police recovered a .40 caliber handgun manufactured by High Point at the scene; at least 13 bullets had been discharged in all. No other weapons or devices were found in his car or his room at the Motel 6 where he has been staying since early July.
Police said Friday that Houser had purchased the handgun legally at pawn shop in Alabama in 2014. Police also said that he had visited the theater more than once, perhaps to determine “whether there was anything that could be a soft target for him.”
Craft said there were no indications that Houser had any accomplices, and no known ties to the Lafayette area. Sources say Houser is estranged from his family, and that is complicating the search for answers.
Investigators are asking the public for any information they may have about Houser, and have set up a special 24-hour hot line to call: (337) 291-8650.
Victims Not Targeted
Investigators said the shooting appears to have been random.
“He wasn’t saying anything. I didn’t hear anybody screaming either,” Katie Domingue told The Advertiser newspaper. “We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker.”
Louisiana movie theater shooting
Domingue said she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.
Lucas Knepper was seated in the same row as the gunman. Knepper told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca there were several empty seats between them.
“We look to the left and it’s the shooter just standing up just shooting at the whole crowd,” Knepper said. “He was, like, 6-7 seats down from us. … He just looked like a common guy off the streets, good looking guy, just normal … (with) white hair white facial hair. And said nothing.”
Witnesses heard popping noises and saw flashes of light, reports Villafranca. Some people ran out without their shoes and abandoned their belongings.
Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene about an hour west of the state capital of Baton Rouge within hours of the shooting, telling reporters a teacher who was in the theater jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.
“Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life,” the 2016 presidential hopeful said.
Teachers hailed as heroes in Louisiana theater shooting
Witness describes Lafayette shooting scene, aiding victim
The shooting took place a week after James Holmes, the man who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., was convicted, and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.
State Police Superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand.
“We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here,” Edmonson said.
He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter’s car and that a bomb-sniffing dog “hit on three different locations” in the vehicle, “so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad.”
No explosives were found in the car or in the theater complex.
“Trainwreck” star Amy Schumer took to Twitter after learning of the shooting [saying all her thoughts and prayers were with the people of Louisiana].
Gov. Jindal called the shooting “an awful night for Louisiana.”
“What we can do now is we can pray,” Jindal said. “We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers.”
President Obama was briefed on the shooting aboard Air Force One by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa for a two-nation visit, the White House said.
Mr. Obama asked his team to keep him updated on the investigation and the status of those wounded. He also offered his thoughts and prayers to the community and to the families of those who were killed.
Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.
A small group of theater employees stood outside the police perimeter. A man who identified himself as a general manager declined to be interviewed: “We would appreciate it if you could give us some space,” he said.
Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, “Self/less” at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and they needed to leave.
Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.
“I was really anxious for everybody at that point,” Gbery said. “Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit.”
Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.
“In that moment, you don’t think about anything,” Clark, 36, told The New York Times. “That’s when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important.”
Clark’s son, Robert Martinez, said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.