A “drifter” sat silently in a movie theater for 20 minutes before firing on other patrons in a shooting that was over in matter of seconds, witnesses and police in Louisiana said early Friday.
John Russell Houser, 59, was seated in the theater “just like everybody else” before killing two people and wounding nine others with a handgun, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told reporters. Houser later took his own life.
Police said the shooter, who was from Alabama, had been staying in a local Motel 6 in recent weeks but there was no indication yet what drove him to carry out the killings.
They found wigs, glasses, and disguises in his room and his vehicle had a switched license plate on it.
Survivors scrambled for the exits but the Houser left behind “a pretty horrific scene” before shooting himself, Craft added.
About 100 people were watching the 7:10 pm. (8:10 p.m. ET) showing of “Trainwreck” at the Grand Theatre 16 when they heard a popping sound 20 minutes into the movie.
“A lot of the people thought it was part of the film,” witness Josh Doggett, 32, told NBC Los Angeles. There was a pause, but when the firing resumed “everyone started climbing over the seats,” he said.
“In the top left of the theater was a man shooting. He was kind of a middle-aged gentleman in a polo shirt,” he said. “He wasn’t erratic or nervous … just walking down the aisle, randomly firing.”
Among those trying to flee were two teachers, identified by friends as Jena Meaux and Ali Martin, one of whom managed to set off the fire alarm.
Doggett’s fiance, Katie Domingue, ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse. She heard about six shots and saw “an older white man” standing up and shooting.
“He wasn’t saying anything,” she told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. “I didn’t hear anybody screaming either.”
The two people who died had been sitting in front of the shooter and were his first victims, Craft said.
Police officers, who happened to be in the parking lot, were on the scene “in less than a minute … it could have been as little as 30 seconds,” he said.
Their prompt arrival may have spooked the gunman into killing himself — potentially preventing a greater tragedy.
“It looks like he spotted the officers coming in and he turned around and went against the crowd and he fired a single gunshot,” Craft said.
In a neighboring theater, patrons heard the faint gunshots over the sound of their movie. “I heard three pops, then … about 10-15 seconds later the sirens went off and the PA system told everyone to evacuate the building,” said Jalen Fernell, 20, who was watching “Southpaw” with friends.
Outside, they realized the scale of the horror inside. “There was a middle-aged female lying down, she was shot in her leg and there was blood,” Fernell said. “She said she was shot inside the theater and and some guys had picked her up and brought her outside and put her on the curb.”
Appearing on Friday’s TODAY, he told Matt Lauer: “I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It was the last thing I thought would happened when my friends texted and said, ‘Let’s go to the movies.'”
“Trainwreck” is a romantic comedy starring Amy Schumer, who tweeted: