CHICAGO: A lone gunman who opened fire in a crowded US movie theater killing two people was a drifter who tried to escape before turning the gun on himself, police said yesterday. Police identified the gunman as 59-year-old John Houser, a white man originally from Alabama. He had been staying at a motel in Lafayette, Louisiana where authorities found glasses and wigs for disguises. “He’s kind of a drifter,” police chief Jim Craft told reporters, adding that Houser acted alone. Houser apparently tried to flee the theater after shooting 13 rounds from a single handgun, killing two white females aged 21 and 33, one of whom died in hospital, and injuring nine others before killing himself as police closed in. “What happened is that the quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, at which time he shot himself,” Craft said. Louisiana state police chief Michael Edmonson said they were investigating Houser’s motive, and had spoken to his friends and family. In addition to the disguises, police said Houser had switched the license plate on his car, which was parked bear the theater exit.
More than 100 people were in the cinema when Houser began shooting indiscriminately into the audience about 30 minutes into a screening of “Trainwreck.” One person remains in critical condition in hospital, Craft said. Houser has been in the southern city of about 125,000 people since early July, according to Craft. Houser’s apparent LinkedIn profile showed a varied career, with experience in investment management, real estate and stints as a bar owner. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said it did not appear that the victims were targeted and said residents were coming to grips with the “random act of violence.” “There’s never a good explanation. In this case, the explanation will be less than in other cases based on what they learned by talking to family members and processing that hotel room and car,” Jindal said on CNN. He praised a teacher who threw herself in front of the shower of bullets to protect her friend, also a teacher, and eventually pulled the fire alarm. “The second teacher said the bullet was coming for her head if her friend hadn’t jumped on top of her. She had the presence of mind to pull the fire alarm,” said Jindal, who is also vying for the Republican presidential nomination Jindal, who rushed to Lafayette after news of the shooting emerged, said it was not the right time to discuss gun control and that the focus should remain on the victims.
The shooting came as President Barack Obama admitted that a “distressing” lack of progress on gun control has been a great source of frustration during his time in office. “If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” Obama said in an interview with the BBC taped before the shooting. “And for us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing,” he said.
The White House said the president was briefed late Thursday while en route to Kenya about America’s latest mass shooting tragedy. “The president directed his team to keep him updated on the investigation and on the status of those injured,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. “The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the White House, including the president and first lady, are with the community of Lafayette, Louisiana-especially the families of those who were killed.” The latest rampage erupted as a jury deliberates the death penalty for the gunman in a 2012 theater massacre in Colorado that left 12 dead and 70 injured. Almost exactly three years ago, James Holmes, 27, opened fire on a packed screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, in a meticulouslyplanned attack during which he wore body armor and used tear gas to prevent victims from escaping.
The shooting also comes a week after Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, opened fire on two military centers in Chattanooga and killed four US Marines and a Navy sailor before dying in a shootout without police. Television images from Lafayette showed a hectic scene at the cinema, surrounded late Thursday by dozens of emergency medical vehicles and police cars. “It was crazy, chaos everywhere,” witness Jacob Broussard told CNN. Broussard was watching a movie across the hall when the sirens went off and the lights came on. A voice came over the intercom asking people to evacuate the building as quickly as possible. As he was leaving, Broussard heard three shots. When he got outside, he saw a woman bleeding from the leg. Comedian Amy Schumer, who stars in “Trainwreck” swiftly offered her condolences. “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana,” she tweeted. — AFP