Los Angeles Times
Theater killer ‘had hate in his heart’
John Russell Houser appears to have held extreme views against gays, liberals, the U.S.
John Russell Houser hated taxes, liberals, newspapers, gays and the United States, according to the broad trail he left in court documents and on the Internet. Nor was he overly fond of his family, which feared him so much that relatives sought a restraining order and once had him involuntarily committed on the grounds that he was mentally ill.
Houser’s wife told police in 2008 that she had removed all the guns from their home because she was afraid of him, according to a Carrollton, Ga., police report that was part of a petition for a restraining order.
On Thursday night, about 20 minutes into the movie “Trainwreck,” Houser stood up in a theater in Lafayette, La., and began firing with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, killing two moviegoers and injuring nine, according to police. He then tried to escape by following the fleeing crowd. When he saw authorities, he dashed back inside and killed himself, police said.
Investigators were looking for a motive and were tracing the movements of the 59-year-old described by police as a drifter with a criminal past. In blog posts, Houser had expressed interest in white power groups and neo-Nazis, and he had espoused anti-Semitic and anti-gay views, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which said that “a picture is emerging online of a man caught up with a number of far right-wing ideas and fascinated about ‘the power of the lone wolf.’”
“We’re trying to put the pieces together to figure out why,” the Louisiana State Police superintendent, Col. Michael D. Edmonson, said during a televised news conference. He said police were looking at the crime scene as well as Houser’s mental health history, blogs and social media activities.
Houser had been living in a Lafayette motel this month after arriving from Alabama. Police said they found disguises, including glasses and wigs, in a search of his room.
“It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and then escaping,” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said.
The attack comes as the nation is still mourning two recent mass shootings. This month, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, described by authorities as a homegrown violent extremist, killed five military service members in Chattanooga, Tenn. In June, nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., were gunned down during a Bible study class. Dylann Roof, 21, has been charged with murder in the attack and faces federal hate crime charges.
The Louisiana incident began at the 7:10 p.m. showing of the movie at the 16screen Grand Theatre multiplex in Lafayette, about 60 miles west of Baton Rouge, the capital.
Houser parked his 1995 blue Lincoln Continental near the theater’s emergency exit, apparently to make an escape easier, Craft said. Houser entered the theater alone and took a seat; about 25 patrons were in attendance, according to authorities. After the film began, he rose and began firing, reloading at least once, authorities said, adding that 15 shell casings were found in the theater.
Katie Domingue, 27, said she and her fiance were sitting on the right side of the second row when the shots were fired.
“When I heard the first pop, I was thinking it was probably some silly teenager doing a firecracker,” Domingue said. “But my fiance, he’s a good Southern boy and he knows what a gun sounds like, had already grabbed the back of my neck and pushed me down and out of the theater.”
Domingue said that there was a pause and she looked toward the top-left corner of the theater and the gunman. “He didn’t say anything when he was shooting,” she said. “It was freaky, he was just so calm.”
A woman in the theater jumped in front of a fellow teacher, taking a bullet for her, officials said. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, Craft said. He said the fire alarm saved lives, as did the quick response by law enforcement, the chief said.
The dead were identified as 33-year-old Jillian Johnson, who ran two clothing and art boutiques, and 21year-old Mayci Breaux, a popular student studying to be a radiology technician.
The wounded ranged from their late teens to their late 60s, Craft said. At least one was in critical condition. Six others remained hospitalized.
Sheriff Heath Taylor of Russell County, Ala., said Houser had applied in 2006 for a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The application was denied because Houser had been accused by his wife the previous year of domestic violence and because he had been arrested in connection with an arson case in Georgia, Taylor said.
In 2008, Houser’s family members filed for a protective order against him for an “act of family violence.” Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e. manic depression and/or bipolar disorder” and had “exhibited extreme erratic behavior,” family members said in court documents.
According to court documents filed in Carroll County, Ga., Houser’s wife filed for divorce in March this year, saying their marriage of more than 31 years was “irretrievably broken.”
Greg Boutwell, who grew up with Houser, said that “he just had hate in his heart. I don’t know why.”
“That’s the kind of person he was,” Boutwell said.