Lafayette police did not begin to look into online postings made under the name Rusty Houser until they were alerted to their existence by the media Friday morning, more than 12 hours after the attack. Police learned Houser’s name on Thursday evening and worked overnight on the case, even running a background check on the shooter.
Of the first search results was Houser’s LinkedIn page, which contained a photo nearly identical to the one displayed at the police press conference. It also included a phone number and email address for the Alabama man.
The email name matched a Twitter handle for an account where Houser wrote that “The Westboro Baptist Church may be the last real church in America[members not brainwashed].” He appears to have only used it to write two Tweets on June 5, 2013. The second one: “If you don’t think the internet is censored, try reading a newspaper from a country that hates liberals the way I do.”
Both of those tweets echo sentiments seen in other online postings made under the name Rusty Houser—implied by the email handle firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lafayette authorities called a 7:30 a.m. Eastern time press conference. During the presser, officials said he was from Alabama, he had been staying in a motel on University Avenue, and that he seemed to be a “drifter.” They said they found wigs, glasses, and other disguises in his room. His vehicle had switched license plate and was parked near an exit door.
The Daily Beast’s first post on Houser’s online trail, about his Tea Party Nation page, was posted at 8:44 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning. It was among the first results obtained by typing the name released at the press conference into a search engine.
“It was apparent that he was intent on shooting and then escaping,” police said, but a quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, where he killed himself. The background check they ran overnight turned up charges of providing alcohol to a minor and arson.
Police also said they knew very little about the man on Friday morning, and publicized an information hotline asking people to call in if they had seen the suspect. At a follow-up presser, they thanked the public for many leads.
“We’re getting into where the bloggers are,” a police official said then.
The Daily Beast asked Lafayette PD’s Sgt. Randy Leger when the department first became aware of Houser’s online activities. “To the best of my recollection, it was sometime this morning,” he said, after struggling to recall an exact time.
He confirmed, however, that it was after the initial press conference, held at 8:15 a.m. Eastern time. “No. If we’d have had it, we would’ve come out with it,” he said.
The Daily Beast then asked if they had performed an internet search for the suspect’s name.
“Ma’am, I have no idea if we did a Google search last night,” Leger said. “I can tell you that our investigators are investigating this to the best of their ability, but as far as a Google search, I do not know.”
And then he hung up.