Lafayette theatre shooting: Gunman was 'an angry provocateur'

The 58-year-old was mentally unstable and known to cause violence

After the 58-year-old killed three people and injured nine others inside a movie theatre in Louisiana, the police characterised 58-year-old John Russell as a drifter who hadn’t spent much time in Lafayette.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (second from left) outside the Grand 16 Theatre in Lafayette where John Rusell House shot three people on Thursday night. Pic/AP
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (second from left) outside the Grand 16 Theatre in Lafayette where John Rusell House (inset) shot three people on Thursday night. Pic/AP

He had been living at Motel 6 where investigators found wigs and disguises in his room. According to the cops, he had tried to escape the theatre before running back inside when he saw officers in front of him and shot himself.

Not a clean past
In 2014, facing eviction from his Alabama home, Houser made sure no one else could ever live in that house. He poured concrete down the drains and cemented the fuse box shut. He splattered paint and human waste all over the walls.

The new owners found Houser had it booby-trapped: the gas starter tube in the fireplace was twisted out and ignited, the logs removed. “He was hoping the house would catch fire. That’s what the investigators told me,” said Norman Bone, 77, who had bought the house for his daughter.

The man Bone once knew as a church-going neighbour had grown into someone better known by neighbours and colleagues as an angry provocateur. Since the early ’90s, Houser regularly appeared on local television shows, appearing opposite a Democrat as a radical Republican railing against women in the workplace and calling for violence against abortion providers.

The son of a longtime city tax official in Columbus, Houser received degrees in accounting and law but never applied to take the bar exam in Alabama. Houser posted on an online career website that he was an entrepreneur who owned and operated two nightclubs in Columbus and LaGrange in the 1980s and 1990s.

But his stint as a club operator ended sourly when he was accused of selling alcohol to minors at Rusty’s Buckhead Pub. In April 2008, Houser’s wife, Kellie, his daughter and others filed court papers seeking a temporary protective order against Houser, saying he had “perpetrated various acts of family violence” and had a history of manic depression and bi-polar disorder.

At the time, Houser was vehemently opposed to the upcoming marriage of his daughter. A judge had Houser committed, but the man told his wife he would continue trying to stop the wedding. The estranged wife was unsure where her husband had been living since they split. Kellie Houser said her long-gone husband called her as she left work on March 30 and asked for her address. She had recently filed for divorce and needed to contact him.

“He told me if I wanted to play games with him I’d better watch out because he always wins,” Kellie Houser wrote in a court filing. He asked that any legal paperwork be sent to his mother. But Houser’s mother told Kellie Houser that she had not seen her son in years, and that security at her retirement home had forbidden her son from entering or approaching her.

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