Hundreds from Acadiana prayed and many of them wept Saturday evening, gathering at a downtown Lafayette park to mourn the victims of a gunman who killed two women and wounded nine other moviegoers Thursday.
“It’s very upsetting, what happened,” said Aimée Dominique, who, like the others Saturday came out on a humid July night to Parc Sans Souci to remember those who died and those who survived and are trying to recover.
Jillian Johnson and Mayci Breaux were killed Thursday night after Alabama drifter John “Rusty” Houser shot them 20 minutes into the romantic comedy “Trainwreck.” Houser wounded nine other innocents before killing himself as Lafayette police rushed into The Grand 16 Theatre on Johnston Street. Police said Houser fired at least 15 rounds from a .40-caliber handgun, the last one to take his own life.
On Saturday, three of the nine people who were wounded remained in hospitals, KATC-TV reported.
“I’m so proud of our (police and emergency) responders,“ Dominique said. “They got there quick.”
Michelle White, of Lafayette, also praised Lafayette emergency responders for quick action. “I actually think the quick response saved many,” she said.
Saturday’s memorial was the latest local event put on to remember the victims, who were part of a drama that’s being told worldwide.
Houser, the 59-year-old gunman, was described by those who knew him in Phenix City, Alabama, as a mentally unstable man known for his strange behavior and his quick, combative stance against those who disagreed with him.
Saturday morning, Lafayette police Cpl. Paul Mouton said investigators were still trying to determine why Houser stopped and stayed in Lafayette in early July, taking up residence at a University Avenue motel near Interstate 10. They also want to know his motive.
“We came to celebrate the lives of the victims,” said Charlie Span, a Houston resident who for years lived in Lafayette. He was eating dinner with his daughter at nearby Don’s Seafood restaurant when he heard about the memorial.
Span said Lafayette and the rest of Acadiana is mourning, “but the Cajuns — they’ll bounce back.” As Lafayette came together, the victims’ families prepared to bury their loved ones.
The funeral for Breaux, a 21-year-old LSU-Eunice radiologic student who is from Franklin, will take place at 11 a.m. Monday at the Church of the Assumption in Franklin. Burial will follow at Franklin Cemetery. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Sunday at Ibert’s Mortuary. Visitation will resume from 8 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Monday.
Breaux was with her fiancé, Matthew Rodriguez, watching the movie. Rodriguez also was shot but will survive.
Johnson’s family will hold a “Celebration of Life” at the Delhomme Chapel of Flowers at 12:30 p.m. Monday. The Rev. John Wamsley will conduct the services. Visitation will be from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Sunday at the chapel, then continue Monday from 9 a.m. until the time of service.
Johnson owned Red Arrow Workshop, the business she started with her husband, Jason Brown. Johnson was 33, played music and was active in Lafayette’s art community.
“Jillian was someone that everyone looked up to,” said Leah Graeff, of Lafayette, who knew Johnson. “She was someone everybody respected, just like Mayci was.
“Things like this never happen to bad people.”
The Saturday evening memorial was preceded by an all-day creative endeavor designed to heal Lafayette’s collective soul. After two days of anguish, hundreds poured their grief into creating prayer flags at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
The small flags were adorned with felt flowers and feathers and encouraging words, and by the time the sun started going down, the flags were hung on a clothesline strung across the Parc Sans Souci stage.
The message brought some cheer to a room of people still mourning and reminded them that in time, Lafayette will heal.
Bree Sargent, the education director at the AcA, said people were not finding a creative outlet for their grief. She said art therapy was a way to bring Lafayette together and give people something to do.
Volunteers trickled throughout the day to help; people from the community and from other cities donated fabric and other supplies.
After reading about the project, Paula Fontenot volunteered. Like many others, Fontenot did not personally know the victims, but she knows people who knew them. With this tie, she said, she felt a connection.
“It’s a big town, but it’s a small world,” she said. “Everybody is just a few heartbeats away from these victims.”
Jamie Huffman and her 14-year-old daughter Maya McGinnis drove in from St. Mary Parish to decorate prayer flags. Huffman said she lived in Lafayette for years and wanted to be part of the healing.
The flags eventually will be weaved together to become either one giant quilt or two smaller ones: The oversized quilt would be displayed publicly; smaller quilts would go to the Breaux and Johnson families.
AcA will host another flag event at the midweek farmers market at the Horse Farm. The flags also will be available for people to make at the AcA, Maven in River Ranch and Genterie Supply Co. in downtown Lafayette.