John Houser was on his way to San Antonio, and Lafayette “was just a stop on his path to Texas,” lead detective Stephen Bajat says in a report into the fatal shooting of two women and wounding of nine other people inside a Lafayette theater in July.
Bajat’s report was part of the 589-page final investigative report released Wednesday on the shooting. The final report details some of the Alabama gunman’s numerous interactions with south Louisiana people but concludes he acted alone. Police also released the gunman’s journal and pictures of his Lafayette hotel room, containing transcripts of interviews with victims and witnesses.
Houser, 59, who was known by the nickname “Rusty,” had been drifting west across the Gulf Coast in the months prior to the July 23 shooting, when he killed 33-year-old Jillian Johnson, of Lafayette, 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, of Franklin, and wounded nine other people during a showing of the film “Trainwreck.” He then killed himself inside the theater.
Evidence uncovered during the investigation places Houser in Lafayette as long ago as May, when he sent his brother a picture of himself with a man riding a two-seated bicycle on the Southeast Evangeline Thruway.
Houser spotted the man at Burger King and asked a restaurant employee to take their picture, according to the bicyclist’s interview cited in the report. The man told police he had never seen Houser before and never saw him again.
Emails obtained through a warrant for Houser’s Google email account show him responding on May 19-20 to Craigslist ads for employment and housing in Gulfport, Mississippi. On June 24, he began responding to the same in Lafayette and Youngsville.
A Lake Charles church worker told police she first saw a “smelly” Houser on July 13, when he sought food and shelter after claiming he had been sleeping in his car and was “down on his luck.” She gave him canned food, some cash and offered a tent, which he declined.
Houser had cleaned up when he returned three days later, the woman told police. He ate a hot meal then sat alone for about two hours before leaving. During her interaction with Houser, he made comments about disliking homosexuals.
The woman recalled that Houser’s “eyes were very blue and that he was really sad.”
On July 22, an employee of Crystal Cottage — a Lafayette gift and costume shop — said she sold Houser a light brunette wig consistent with one police later would find in his hotel room. She described him as “rude” and “aloof.”
When he arrived at the theater, Houser asked the ticket-booth employee how his day was going. When the employee responded, “It’s good,” Houser told him, “That’s good. Let’s keep it that way.”
Witnesses described seeing Houser enter the theater late. Some mistook the first gunshot for fireworks, a malfunctioning audio system or a paintball gun.
An officer near the theater on an unrelated call heard the 7:28 p.m. dispatch and arrived to the scene within 12 seconds, according to the report. Investigators determined Houser killed himself before the first officer arrived. The entire initial response took place in three minutes and 41 seconds.
About 100 first responders arrived on scene within the first hour, according to the report. Within 15 minutes, law enforcement had tracked down Houser’s online presence.
“Comments, posted in his own writing, were located and quickly began to give us the ideals and history of someone who was not rational and had battled local governments, as well as his hatred for what he believed the United States had become,” wrote State Trooper Steven McGovern.
A search of Houser’s 1995 Lincoln Town Car turned up receipts from grocery and discount stores and 17 VHS tapes of films such as “Austin Powers, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “The Apostle” and “Cast Away.”
His toxicology report came back negative for all drugs but showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent.
Along with personal information about witnesses and victims, including information on the victim’s injuries, more than 100 pages of investigative findings from the FBI were redacted from the report per the agency’s request. FBI agents conducted interviews in Louisiana, Georgia and Ohio with potential witnesses and Houser’s family members.
Although interviews with Houser’s family were not made public in the report, court filings in Georgia and Alabama showed his sometimes tumultuous relationships and often troubled mental state.
He had undergone psychiatric evaluation in Georgia in 1989 — when he paid a police informant to set fire to a Georgia lawyer’s office — but he ultimately was deemed competent.
Houser’s wife filed for a divorce in March 2015, while he was evicted from his Phenix City, Alabama, house in 2014. Before leaving the property, he almost destroyed the house, putting cement down every sink, toilet and bathtub, according to the new owner.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.