Authorities on Friday identified the lone gunman who opened fire in a Louisiana movie theater the night before, killing two women and injuring nine others before shooting himself, as 59-year-old “drifter” John Russell Houser and said he bought the gun legally last year.
At a Friday news conference, police said John Russell Houser purchased the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun legally at a pawnshop in Phenix City, Alabama, in 2014 and that he had visited the theater before the attack, possibly to see if it would be a "soft target."
Houser fired a handgun at least 15 times in a slow and methodical manner inside the theater before turning it on himself, according to state authorities.
Katie Domingue of Carencro, Louisiana was at the 7:10 p.m. showing of “Trainwreck” with her fiancé, Joshua Doggett, on Thursday. She told The Advertiser that about 20 minutes into the movie, she heard a loud noise.
“We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker,” she told the Advertiser.
Domingue said she saw “an older white man” standing up and shooting down into the theater, but not in her direction. “He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either,” Domingue said.
Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 people, is roughly 55 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, the state capital.
“This is an awful night for Lafayette. This is an awful night for the United States. But we will get through this,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a news conference Thursday night.
Jindal, who last month announced his candidacy for the 2016 GOP presidential race, said he'll be meeting with the families of the victims.
U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, a Republican from Lafayette, echoed the governor's sentiment and said he is “saddened at the terrible loss of life.”
Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.
“In that moment, you don't think about anything,” Clark, 36, told The New York Times. “That's when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important.”
Jindal said one of the people shot was a teacher who jumped on top of a friend. The teacher was shot in the leg and pulled the fire alarm inside the theater, he said. The teacher already has been released from the hospital, Jindal said.
The shooting came three years after a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” killing 12 people and injuring dozens of others.
Over the past two months, there have several mass shootings.
A gunman is accused of a racially motivated shooting at a black church in South Carolina that killed nine church members in June. Last week, a gunman attacked military offices in Tennessee, killing four U.S. servicemen. A fifth person died two days later.
In a BBC interview that aired on Thursday before the Louisiana shooting, President Barack Obama said his biggest frustration during his presidency was the failure to pass "common-sense gun safety laws.”
Al Jazeera and wire services