A cluster of news vans remained parked outside The Grand 16 Theatre on Sunday, with bright yellow police tape still separating the crime scene from the numerous local, state and national reporters camped on the parking lot’s scorching pavement since their arrivals following the fatal shooting Thursday night.
Police expected to put the building back in the hands of its operators at some point on Monday, said Cpl. Paul Mouton, Lafayette Police Department spokesman.
“Investigators are going to sit down and go over everything. We’re hoping to have it cleared out on Monday, but we can’t say 100 percent for sure,” Mouton said.
It’s unclear when the theater will reopen. The marquee in front of the cineplex flashed the times of featured films throughout the night on Thursday and into Friday after 59-year-old John “Rusty” Houser opened fire during a showing of the comedy “Trainwreck,” but by Sunday, the lights had gone dark.
Beneath it, more than a dozen handmade, brightly colored stars hung above dozens of flowers placed there in tribute to the two women killed in the shooting — Mayci Breaux, 21, of Franklin, and Jillian Johnson, 33, of Lafayette — and the nine others who were injured by Houser’s .40-caliber bullets.
Four of the nine injured remained in area hospitals on Sunday.
One patient’s condition had improved from critical to fair at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center. Two patients were in good condition at Lafayette General Hospital as was the fourth victim at the Regional Medical Center of Acadiana, according to spokespeople for each hospital.
All of them are expected to make full recoveries.
Across social media platforms, people changed their avatars to images in support of those affected by the tragedy.
One shows the state of Louisiana with a heart shape laid over the city — known as “the heart of Acadiana” inside the south-central parish that’s shaped, appropriately, like a sideways heart — and the phrase “Pray for Lafayette.”
Another shows a graphic designed by Johnson that depicts a two-by-two-letter block of the word “LOVE” laid over an Acadian flag. The same image is on display at a number of digital advertising billboards throughout the city.
Besides #PrayForLafayette, another hashtag phrase has been made popular since the shooting: #LafayetteStrong.
When the radical religious group Westboro Baptist Church — known for having picketed or threatened to picket the funerals for murder victims, homosexuals and soldiers — began making social media posts about picketing in Lafayette, more than 5,400 had joined by Sunday afternoon a Facebook group pledging to form a human barrier to protect each woman’s funeral from the protesters.
Gov. Bobby Jindal also took note of the church’s plans when on Saturday he issued an executive order for law enforcement to protect against protests at both Johnson’s and Breaux’s funerals — a move that prompted a response from the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana.
The order is “misguided” and “contradictory,” ACLU Louisiana Assistant Director Collene Kane Gielskie said in a news release Sunday.
She said Jindal’s order protects the First Amendment rights of the victims’ families but, at the same time, denies those same rights to funeral protesters. The organization said the governor would better serve victims’ families and the law by allowing police to enforce the law as it is.
“Given Gov. Jindal’s stated concern for religious freedom — which would weigh in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church — he should be careful not to run afoul of the First Amendment in this or any other orders that he may issue,” the ACLU said in its statement
Nonetheless, Lafayette Parish sheriff’s deputies and State Police troopers surrounded Delhomme Funeral Home in Lafayette on Sunday as the first of Johnson’s two-day memorial services began.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.