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Investigators probe deadly Lafayette theater shooting

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LAFAYETTE - Law enforcement and local officials said Friday they've begun the "marathon" investigation into a gunman who killed two people and wounded many more overnight at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette.

Louisiana State Police said 59-year-old John R. Houser of Alabama fired randomly into the crowd at the 7 p.m. showing of "Trainwreck" Thursday. Two women identified as 21-year-old Mayci Breaux of Franklin and 33-year-old Jillian Johnson of Lafayette died in the shooting, and at least nine others were injured.

In a press conference on Friday afternoon, Gov. Bobby Jindal said investigators and the community of Lafayette were "trying to make sense out of senseless act" and at the beginning of a long process of grieving and recovery.

While speaking the governor was quick to describe some of the individual incidents that came out of the chaos Thursday night including a surviving, wounded victim playing dead to get out of the situation, a couple giving another wounded victim a ride to the hospital and the heroic efforts of police who ran toward the sound of gunfire to save lives. He said that investigators are working to determine the timeline behind when Houser entered the state and leading up to the shooting.

Authorities will be holding down the scene through the weekend as they work to gather evidence and establish exactly what unfolded in the theater on Thursday night. So far, 15 shell casings have been recovered, fired from a hi point .40 caliber semi-automatic firearm. Investigators said the weapon was purchased legally from a pawn shop in Phenix City, Alabama in 2014.

In the evening press conference, the governor described the "slow and methodical" approach Houser took during the shooting and his seeming plans of escape, right down to parking his car by the exit and the placement of his car keys on the tire of his vehicle.

Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft also said Friday that the gunman had visited the movie theater more than once, perhaps trying to determine if it was a "soft target."

At what would be the final press event of the day concerning the shooting, Craft said five of the wounded remain in Lafayette hospitals, while four have been released.

Earlier in the day, investigators admitted it's possible they may never know exactly why Houser went into the theater and started shooting.

"The big question, the one everybody's wondering, is why would this guy come here and start shooting?  It's too early to have any of those answers yet," Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said.   

At an 11 a.m. press conference, Col. Edmonson of Louisiana State Police said they are confident Houser acted as a lone gunman, and there were no "imminent" threats connected to his actions. Edmonson said Houser left his car parked at the exit of the theater with his keys sitting on a tire, ready to make a quick exit. Craft said officers arrived at the theater too quickly, though, and Houser went back into the theater before taking his own life.

Craft said there were 300 people inside the Grand when the shooting happened, and that theatergoers as well as employees pulled fire alarms to alert others about the danger. Witnesses in the theaters near where the shooting happened said they thought the sounds they were hearing were part of the film. Many took off so quickly they left behind purses, phones, even shoes which remained in the theater while police began their investigation. 

Governor Bobby Jindal praised two teachers who were in the theater with Houser for their "heroic" actions, saying one dove in front of the other to save her life and the other pulled a nearby fire alarm. Both were among the injured.

Edmonson said investigators had a second crime scene a Lafayette motel where Houser was staying. LSP said inside they found wigs and glasses, possibly part of a disguise Houser planned to use.

Bomb squads also swept Houser's car and hotel room as precautions, but said they found no suspicious devices.

Edmonson said investigators were aware of Houser's history of mental illness as well as online writings which spoke out against the federal government, among other things. He said they were working to figure out the facts as they related to the shooting.

"Simply a blogger," Edmonson said to describe Houser. "Just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true."

The LSP superintendent said the State Police Fusion Center was focused on this investigation, coordinating state and local efforts with federal agencies such as Homeland Security and the Secret Service. He also said more than 100 lawmakers in the state had been briefed on the situation.

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