Gunman had ties to white supremacists
LAFAYETTE - As the pieces of his past come together, investigators are getting a clearer picture of the man who police said opened fire on a Lafayette theater crowd Thursday night and killed two people.
Louisiana State Police said 59-year-old John Russell Houser shot and killed two women and wounded several others at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette before taking his own life.
LSP investigators initially described him as "kind of a drifter," living out of a Lafayette motel for the past several weeks but not having any obvious ties to the area. Court records and the Southern Poverty Law Center paint Houser as a mentally-disturbed individual who spent years making threats and violent statements before police said he finally acted upon them. Seemingly at odds with the image of an addled loner, State Police later told News 2 that they had found John Houser's law degree and that he was attorney.
Friday afternoon the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said Houser had been in their files since 2005 when he registered at former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization conference. The SPLC told the Associated Press that Houser wrote about the "power of the lone wolf" and expressed anti-Semitic, white supremacist ideals. He wrote positively about Hitler and Timothy McVeigh on several websites, detailing his beliefs that U. S. government was about to fall.
"The bible doesn't ask me to like what it says, only to obey it. Death comes soon to the financially failing filth farm called the US," Houser wrote.
Houser's life wandered through the south, starting in Georgia. The son of a Columbia tax commissioner, Houser earned accounting and law degrees, running for office himself in Columbus but withdrawing after he was charged with stealing his opponent's campaign signs. People said he was an "angry man," calling in frequently to a TV show in the early 90s hosted by Calvin Floyd who said Houser would make all kinds of accusations about the government. Floyd said he would often put Houser, an ultra-conservative, on with a Democrat because "he could make the phones ring."
His behavior also led Houser to run afoul of the law. Police records in Georgia and Alabama showed several traffic tickets, and an arson arrest. Houser also had a domestic complaint filed against him in 2005, but it was dropped because police said the victim didn't want to continue pressing charges.
In 2006 while living in Alabama, Houser applied for a concealed weapons permit. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said that application was denied due to the previous domestic complaint and arson arrest. Two years later his family was back in front of a judge, asking that he be sent to a mental hospital. The protective order filed by his wife said Houser had serious issues such as manic depression or bipolar disorder, and his threats and errative behavior caused her to remove all weapons from their home.
Houser continued making charged statements through message boards, Facebook and Twitter, posting under the name Rusty Houser. He said he hated liberals, supported the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, and continued to talk about the fall of the United States.
"I will be in fear at that time as will everyone else, but not in a fear which resembles that of the leaders of foolishness and the brainwashed that follow. Truth carries with it an understanding of death. Rather than live without it,I will take death," one post from 2013 read.
Sheriff Taylor said in 2014 Houser was evicted from his Phenix City residence. After he was kicked out, the sheriff said Houser came back to the home and poured concrete into the plumbing and tampered with the gas lines.
"That was dangerous and could've been extremely dangerous," Taylor said.
In early July Lafayette Police said Houser checked into a motel in the city-parish. Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson said his mother even sent him money.
"She said he was trying to turn his life around," Edmonson said.
On Thursday night police said Houser went to the theater alone, armed with a semi-automatic handgun and an extra magazine which he'd purchased legally. Investigators said he went to the 7 p.m. showing of "Trainwreck," then sat toward the back by himself. Once the movie got underway witnesses told police he stood up, not saying a word, and started firing down into the crowd of about 25 people. Police believe he fired 13 times, reloading at least once.
Katie Domingue, who was in the same theater, said she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran for the exit. She said they thought the "loud pop" was a firecracker at first, and that Houser "wasn't saying anything," and that she "didn't hear anybody screaming."
Investigators said Houser tried to blend into the fleeing crowd, and had parked his car at a theater exit with the keys sitting on a tire. Police responded within a minute, though, and said Houser went back inside after he saw officers heading toward the theater. He then took his own life, according to police.
Edmonson said after the shooting police searched Houser's motel room and vehicle, clearing both with the bomb squad as a precaution. Inside the hotel room authorities said they found wigs and glasses which could have been used as part of a disguise.
Edmonson also said investigators with the state's Fusion center were going through Houser's writings as they try to untangle his motive for the shooting. They said it appears he acted as a lone wolf, with no accomplices or other "imminent threats" connected to his actions.
The superintendent said it's possible investigators may never conclusively determine what Houser's motivation for the shooting was, but that wouldn't stop them from trying.
"We owe it to these families to work together and bring closure to them," Edmonson said.