Lafayette, Louisiana Gunman Reportedly Had Record of Arrests

John Russell Houser killed two and wounded seven before committing suicide.

AP

Police on Saturday sifted through tips about John Russell Houser as they worked to reconstruct his movements before he killed two people, wounded nine and then killed himself in a movie theater.

They are still interviewing victims and witnesses and studying his cell phone records, internet postings and other contacts, trying to establish what prompted the right-wing extremist with a long history of erratic behavior and violent threats to open fire.

"Our intelligence section is still analyzing a lot of that," Lafayette Police Col. Paul Mouton said, adding that many people "feel they have had some sort of contact or run-in with this individual."

An initial report about Houser will likely be released next week, the police spokesman said, and by Monday, they expect to remove the police tape from the crime scene, returning some measure of normalcy to the place where a romantic comedy on screen was interrupted by violence in the theater.

Houser, 59, did not say a word as he aimed at the audience, witnesses said. He left a horrific scene of blood, bullet holes and spent shell casings, and purses, wallets and shoes.

Emily Mann, 21, told The Associated Press that she escaped with her friend by crawling out on their hands and knees while he picked off others one by one.

Mann and her friend arrived late for Thursday's "Trainwreck" feature, so they quietly found seats near the back of the small theater. They didn't notice the man just a few seats down until 20 minutes into the movie, when he got up and started firing.

"You hear one loud shot and you're sure that's not what it is because it would never be that. And then you hear another and another and another and you realize that those aren't just lights and sounds," Mann said.

Houser was a deeply troubled man with a reputation for provocative, angry behavior in the communities where he lived in Georgia and Alabama. He had a regular seat on local television and radio shows and local board meetings, providing a right-wing and even conspiratorial counterpoint to more mainstream political voices, according to many accounts.

He flew a large Confederate flag outside his home and a Nazi swastika outside a bar he owned, and put "doomsday" fliers in his neighbors' mailboxes, urging them to pool resources for the coming global economic collapse, his former neighbor Rick Chancey said.

Houser's own family persuaded a judge that he needed mental health treatment in 2008, and years earlier, another judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Houser after he was arrested for allegedly trying to kill a lawyer by hiring an arsonist to torch his office, according to court records.

Houser became estranged from his family, lost his businesses, his home was foreclosed on, and when he was finally evicted, he ruined the property by pouring concrete into the plumbing and glue into the fixtures, police said.

Filing for divorce in March, his estranged wife, Kellie Houser, said he lashed out at her, saying "I'd better watch out because he always wins."

Houser's mother then called to say her son had "threatened to commit suicide in front of the retirement community where he believes her to be living if she didn't give him money," the divorce papers allege.

Kellie Houser said she urged his mother not to pay, and to send him instead to a psychiatric facility.

Instead, police said, Houser's mother sent him $5,000.

Given his background, many people were asking how he managed to buy a semi-automatic handgun from a pawnshop in Phenix City, Alabama, where the sheriff on Friday said his office had denied Houser a concealed weapons permit.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Friday that "now is not the time" to discuss gun control measures, a position backed Saturday by rock musician and gun enthusiast Ted Nugent, who was in Lafayette for a sportsmen's exposition. Nugent came to the theater with former U.S. Rep. Allen West, a retired Army colonel and FOX news commentator, to lay flowers and show their respect for the victims.

Houser was a regular presence on right-wing extremist message boards, where he praised Adolf Hitler and advised people not to underestimate "the power of the lone wolf," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose hate-group watchdogs spotted Houser in 2005, registering to meet with former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Court records describe erratic behavior and threats of violence that led to an arrest for attempted arson and a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation in 1989, and a brief involuntary hospitalization in 2008, along with a restraining order preventing him from approaching family members.

Houser "has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder," his estranged wife told the judge.

"He was pretty even-keeled until you disagreed with him or made him mad," said Jeff Hardin, the former mayor of Phenix City, Alabama, just across the state line from Columbus. "Then he became your sworn enemy."

Authorities in Louisiana and Alabama cited these mental problems Friday as they bemoaned the underfunding of mental health services in the U.S.

Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said his office, which oversees Phenix City, denied Houser's request for a concealed weapons permit in 2006 because of the arson arrest and a domestic violence complaint that his wife ultimately dropped.

"What should be scary for the community is that the cuts being made in mental health around the state are allowing these people, who should not be walking around, to be out in the community," the sheriff said.

What prompted Houser to kill people Thursday night remains unknown. Police said it appears that suicide was not his first option.

Inside a Motel 6 room he rented, they found wigs, glasses and other disguises. Houser also swapped the license plates on his 1995 Lincoln Continental before parking it by the theater's exit door. .

He wore no disguises however as he entered The Grand 16 theater, one of 25 people who bought tickets to the film starring feminist comedian Amy Schumer as a boozing, promiscuous reporter.

Mann said after hearing the first shot, she looked to her left and saw Houser fire at least four more times in a semi-circle in front of him. The situation was so difficult to comprehend that people didn't scream.

"After the first shot you could hear people saying 'What?' What was that?' because I think everybody had this reaction," she said.

"It was a strange. You go to the movies to escape from problems and escape from thoughts and due dates," she said. "You needed a second to think, 'OK, this is real, this is happening.'"

The two women killed were 21-year-old Mayci Breaux and 33-year-old Jillian Johnson. Breaux's body was brought to the same hospital where she was preparing to become a radiology technician. Johnson ran clothing and art boutiques, played in a rootsy rock band and planted fruit trees for neighbors and the homeless.

Among the wounded treated at Lafayette General Medical Center, all but two were discharged by Saturday, and they were listed in good condition, including the patient who had been in intensive care.