Tipsters help police seeking theater shooter’s motive

Published 3:58 pm Saturday, July 25, 2015

LAFAYETTE, La. — Police on Saturday thanked the many people providing tips about John Russell Houser as they work to reconstruct his movements before he killed two people, wounded nine and then killed himself in a movie theater.

By interviewing victims and witnesses and studying his cell phone records, internet postings and other contacts, they hope to figure out what prompted the right-wing extremist with a 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.”

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An initial report about Houser will likely be released next week, the police spokesman said. By Monday, they expect to remove police tape and return some measure of normalcy to the theater where a romantic comedy exploded into violence.

Houser, 59, said not 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, escaped with her friend by crawling out on her hands and knees while he picked off his victims one by one.

Mann said they arrived late for Thursday’s “Trainwreck” feature and quietly found seats near the back of the small theater. They didn’t notice the man in their row until he started firing, about 20 minutes into the movie.

“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 of angry behavior in the communities where he lived in Georgia and Alabama. He had a regular seat on local television and radio shows and board meetings, providing a provocative and 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 said he had a history of “manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder” as they persuaded a judge that he needed mental health treatment in 2008. In 1989, another judge had 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.