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No warning as drifter opened fire at La. movie

Melinda Deslatte
Associated Press

Lafayette, La. — A man who lost his family, home and businesses as he spent years angrily espousing right-wing extremism on television, the Internet and to anyone else who would listen did not say a word as he opened fire on strangers in a darkened movie theater, authorities said Friday.

John Russell Houser, 59, stood up about 20 minutes into Thursday night’s showing of “Trainwreck” and fired on the audience, killing two people and wounding nine with a semi-automatic handgun.

Houser then tried to escape by blending into the fleeing crowd after one of his victims pulled a fire alarm and hundreds poured out of the theater complex. But he turned back as police officers approached, reloading and killing himself with a single shot, police said.

“This is such a senseless, tragic action,” Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said. “Why would you come here and do something like this?”

Investigators were trying to reconstruct Houser’s movements before the attack in hopes of identifying a motive and providing what Craft called “some closure” for the victims’ families.

He had only been in Lafayette a matter of weeks, staying in a Motel 6 room littered with wigs and disguises. His only known connection to the city was an uncle who died there three decades ago.

Details quickly emerged about Houser’s mental problems, prompting authorities in Louisiana and Alabama to bemoan the underfunding of mental health services in America.

Court records describe erratic behavior and threats of violence that led to a brief involuntary hospitalization in 2008 and a restraining order preventing Houser 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.

Educated in accounting and law, he owned bars in Georgia — including one where he flew a Nazi banner out front as an anti-government statement. He tried real estate in Phenix City, Alabama. But Houser’s own resume, posted online, says what he really loved to do was make provocative statements at local board meetings and in the media.

In recent years, Houser turned to right-wing extremist Internet 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.

Police believe he hoped to escape his deadly ambush.

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.