Lafayette shooter’s mental illness ‘should have stopped him from buying a weapon’ – police

Investigators stand outside a movie theatre where a man shot and killed filmgoers. © Lee Celano
John Russell Houser, 59, identified as the suspected lone gunman in the Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater shooting, had a history of domestic violence and mental illness. Officials are blaming budget cuts for mental health services for his violent act.

Less than 24 hours after police say Houser opened fire during a showing of ‘Trainwreck’ before committing suicide in the movie theater on Thursday night, a picture of the gunman’s life is starting to emerge. Jillian Johnson, 33, and Mayci Breaux, 21, were killed and nine other people were injured in the shooting spree.

READ MORE: Louisiana police identify movie theater shooter 

The Alabama native is accused of using a .40-caliber handgun in the attack, firing 13 rounds of bullets with no known motive, not attempting to target specific people, Governor Bobby Jindal said.

His family said he had a "volatile mental state" and "a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder," in 2008 court documents in which they sought protection from him.

When asked during a Friday afternoon press conference why Houser had not been institutionalized after his run-ins with police in Alabama, Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor responded: “The mental health side, you know, there’s cuts being made all over about mental health, and that’s what’s so scary for us in law enforcement and should be scary for the community is, you know, the states and the cuts that are being made as far as mental health around the state is allowing a lot of these people that should not be walking around to be out in the community. And, you know, that’s a scary scenario that we’re dealing with everyday, and it’s a financial decision that people way above my [pay] grade are making to close mental health facilities.”

READ MORE: Movie theater killings suggest disturbing pattern

Houser lived in Phenix City, Alabama on and off from 2005 and 2014, and was known to both the city police department and the Russell County Sheriff’s Office due to complaints of domestic violence and vandalism during an eviction, Taylor said.

“In 10/23 of ‘05, there was a domestic violence complaint against Mr. Houser that was never prosecuted for, but the complaint was filed with the police department here,” Taylor said. “In ‘06, Mr. Houser applied for a concealed-carry permit with my office here. That permit was denied. The reason for the denial was we had the report of domestic violence against him, and in ‘89 or ‘90, he was arrested for an arson case in Columbus, Georgia. So at the time he applied for his permit, he had the arson arrest in his history and as well as the domestic violence report.”

From 2008 to 2009, Houser was being treated for a mental illness, Taylor said, but he could not elaborate as to what he was being treated for because the medical records are sealed.

According to court documents, however, Houser’s family grew fearful of him after he made violent threats after his 23-year-old daughter’s engagement. His wife removed all the guns from their home and petitioned a judge to involuntarily commit him, the New York Daily News reported.

The judge granted the family's request, saying Houser was “a danger to himself and others.”

After he got out of the mental health facility he was still violent, so his wife, daughter and other relatives received protective orders preventing him from coming near them, the NY Daily News reported.

Being treated for a mental illness “should have stopped him from buying a weapon,” Taylor said.

Houser and his wife bought a house in Phenix City in 2011, but he was evicted in 2014 after his home was foreclosed on, Taylor said. At that point, the Russell County Sheriff’s Office served an unlawful detainer on him during that process for damage he had done to the house after the fact.

“According to the report, there was concrete poured down the plumbing pipes, there was a lot of damage to the gas pipes coming into the home, so there was a significant amount of damage to the home,” the sheriff said.

He also broke windows and put dead fish and feces in the house, according to WRBL.

“Certainly I think the gas issue was what they were talking about with the booby traps. I think that was dangerous, and could have been extremely dangerous,” Taylor said. “My understanding is that he had done something to the gas line coming into the fireplace ‒ there was a gas fireplace ‒ and that he had tampered with that so that, if you were to have turned it on, it would have been blowing… fire, you know, out, so it was certainly maybe being considered a booby trap.”

However, the new owner of the home, who bought the house out of foreclosure, declined to press charges.

After the eviction, Houser became estranged from his family, and somehow ended up at a Motel 6 in Louisiana.

"It just seems like he was kind of drifting along," Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said during a press conference Friday afternoon.

Before that, when he wasn’t living in Phenix City, Houser lived in Columbus, Georgia, where he was active in politics, including running for office at least once, Taylor said.

Houser was also featured several times on a morning call-in show there in the early 1990s because his radical opinions would “make the phones ring,” former host Calvin Floyd told the NY Daily News, who described Houser as "angry man" who made "wild accusations" about all sorts of local officials and topics.

Online, Houser railed against the United States’ impending “death” and praised Adolf Hitler and supported neo-Nazism, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on its Hatewatch Blog.