LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — Police identified the shooter who killed two moviegoers at a suburban movie theater last night as a 58-year-old “drifter” named John Russell Houser.
According to online posts in his name, he was a “very conservative” Tea Party sympathizer who feared America was heading toward the kind of post-apocalyptic mayhem seen in Mad Max.
Police officers say the man opened fire 20 minutes into a showing of comedy movie Trainwreck at the multiplex. He had been staying in a hotel near Lafayette, around 500 miles from his hometown of Phenix City, Alabama.
Bullets are thought to have struck at least 10 people in the theater before the gunman turned his weapon on himself. One of his victims was killed at the scene, another later died at a hospital.
“It was a pretty horrific scene,” said Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft. “Why would this guy come here, to this theater and start randomly shooting people? That is the big question everyone is wondering.”
Houser’s online profiles offered no obvious motive for the attack. On a Debate Politics page registered to Rusty Houser, he listed the Greek Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn among his interests, and suggested that the hard-line nationalists had made “a legitimate effort to solve problems” facing Greece.
On the same forum, he asked why it was so difficult “to find white power groups you might want to join.”
Police said the shooter had a criminal record, and a host of disguises including wigs and glasses in his car. They could not find any explanation for his attack despite interviewing family and friends back in Alabama. No affiliations were noted from Houser’s clothing.
Colonel Michael D. Edmund, deputy secretary superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, told The Daily Beast that they were determined to find out why this man had taken the lives of two strangers.
“We have to put the clues together and find motive. We owe the families some closure,” he said.
Crime-scene investigators worked through the night inside the theater, where people had gathered to watch Amy Schumer’s movie Trainwreck a few hours before. Schumer was horrified. “My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana,” she wrote on Twitter.
The movie had been playing for about 20 minutes when the shooting began. Police were inside within a minute. They were met with an onslaught of theatergoers rushing out, including the shooter, according to witnesses. When the gunman saw the police, he turned against the crowd moving in the opposite direction and fired a single shot, taking his own life.
Witnesses said the shooter was sitting alone. The first people he shot were sitting right in front of him.
No one is thought to have spoken to the gunman or attempted to tackle him during the incident. As soon as the shooting began, people scrambled for the exits, abandoning purses and bags inside the theater.
Two died in the theater, including the gunman. Ten people were rushed to the hospital, where one died and one was in a critical condition overnight.
Governor Bobby Jindal said it was “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.”
The shooting came just hours after a jury decided that James Holmes should face the death penalty for killing 12 in a Colorado theater massacre three years ago.