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Louisiana Theater Shooting Latest; Community Remembers Women Slain in Movie Theater Shooting; Theaters Vulnerable Target for Mass Shooting. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Two killed, nine wounded in yet another mass shooting here in the United States.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead: People inside the theater said initially they thought it was all part of the movie, but the horror was tragically real, a gunman seemingly firing at random inside a Louisiana cinema, killing two young women before killing himself.

Police described the shooter as a drifter. We will talk to a man who knew him for years.

The heartbreak in Louisiana overflowing, but witnesses and police say even more people could have lost their lives if it had not been for one teacher's grace and grit under fire. She took a bullet and then, bleeding, took the situation in her own hands.

Plus, the politics lead today -- quote -- "I did not e-mail classified material to anyone on my e-mail." That's what Hillary Clinton said in March, but now an intelligence community auditor says the former chief diplomat did send four e-mails containing classified information over her private e-mail server. The big question, of course, is what she did criminal?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our national lead, no warning, he just stood up and started shooting. That's what witnesses say happened inside the Grand 16 in Lafayette, Louisiana, last night, just 20 minutes into a screening of the film "Trainwreck." A deranged gunman now identified as John Russel Houser got off at least a dozen shots before he turned his gun on himself.

Those bullets fired by that gunman, we know now, stole innocent lives, Jillian Johnson, 33 years old, a musician, a boutique, Mayci Breaux, only 21 years old, a college student. Now authorities are left with the different task of trying to find out why this man identified as a drifter with reported mental health issues and a history of anti- government rantings coldly shot up the cinema.

Let's get right to CNN correspondent Ryan Nobles. He's at the scene in Lafayette. Ryan, what are police telling you? What's the latest?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this community is still in shock, as you might imagine.

Police back here are describing this as a crime scene. In fact, we have seen investigators come in and out of the theater all day, as they try and figure out what happened here last night.


NOBLES (voice-over): Before 7:30 Thursday night, police say this man, 59-year-old Johns Russel Houser, stood up in a crowded movie theater armed with a handgun and opened fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could have been shot. Like, I didn't know where the shooter was. I don't know where he could have been.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was blood everywhere. That's when we realized what was going on.

NOBLES: Houser shot at least 13 rounds. Witnesses say it was complete chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just heard the alarm go off, and then everybody just screaming to get out, people everywhere Panic. It was all panic.

NOBLES: First-responders raced to the scene, carrying out the wounded. This cell phone video shows an officer and two civilians coming to the aid of one victim.

Houser's car, a 1995 blue Lincoln Continental with swapped-out license plates, was parked right outside the theater exit, leaves his keys on top of his tires. Police say his plan was to escape after the attack.

JIM CRAFT, LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA, POLICE CHIEF: There were two police officers who were actually on the property at the time the incident occurred. The quick law enforcement response forced him back into the theater, at which time he shot himself.

NOBLES: Twenty-one-year-old Mayci Breaux died on scene; 33-year-old Jillian Johnson succumbed to her injuries at a nearby hospital. Two of those injured were teachers, getting ready for the start of a new school year. One of them pulled a fire alarm after being shot.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: One teacher literally jumping over her friend potentially saving her life. The second teacher was shot anyway in the leg, had the presence of mind to pull that fire alarm. Who knows how many lives were saved just by that presence of mind.

NOBLES: Houser is described by police as a drifter, estranged from his family. In his hotel room, police found disguises and wigs, possibly for a getaway. What remains a mystery tonight is motive.

CRAFT: This is such a senseless, tragic act. Why would you come here and do something like this? And so, just like the victims, we are searching for answers, too.


NOBLES: More on that attempted getaway by Houser. Police say that he left the theater, where he left the keys to that Lincoln Continental on one the tire, on one of the tires of that car.

That's when he saw law enforcement, stopped, reloaded his gun, went back inside the theater and shot and killed himself -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles is in Lafayette, thank you so much.

The city of Lafayette today is a community in mourning, a Catholic Church minutes ago holding a prayer service for shooting victims in our Lady of Wisdom Church in the heart of the city.

Let's bring in Joey Durel now. He's the Lafayette City Parish president, essentially the mayor. He also knew one of the women killed in this rampage, Jillian Johnson.


Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Durel. Tell us about Jillian. Tell us about her.

JOEY DUREL, LAFAYETTE CITY PARISH PRESIDENT: Well, she was one of these ladies who was very involved in the community, and I want to say I didn't know her very well. Her husband used to be a reporter for one of the newspapers in the state.

But in a town this size, you go to functions and you say hello, you give a kiss. We ran into each other from time to time. But she was just a bedrock of this community, one of the real givers of this community.

TAPPER: We have heard that the killer had mental illness, his ex-wife once took away his guns, once had him involuntarily committed.

Do you have any idea how he got this handgun?

DUREL: Oh, no, that's not a big issue for me. It's what he did with that handgun that matters. It's just a tragedy, and it's a horrible thing. I think we have a hard time as humans wrapping our brains around this. How does anybody shoot an innocent person? You used the world yourself a while ago, deranged. A normal person can't do this kind of horror.

TAPPER: All I mean by that is that many communities have laws to prevent those who are clearly not mentally capable of possessing a gun from doing it.

I would assume that your community is one of those as well. If he had been involuntary committed, there might be a law that would prevent him from getting a gun.

DUREL: That may be. Of course, I believe we follow state law as it relates to that. I

think those are mostly laws imposed by the states. And what we follow here in Lafayette is whatever the state has in place.

TAPPER: There's obviously nothing that could ever explain why this man did this, but are police any closer to figuring out what at least he thought, what his twisted motivation was?

DUREL: We just can't -- you know, obviously, as I said, you can't rap your brain around something like this.

The guy wasn't from here. We know he's been here for two, two-and-a- half weeks maybe at that particular hotel. We're still trying to find out if he was at another hotel before that. We have nothing yet that says he was here any longer than the last couple of weeks.

Why he came to Lafayette is the big question, why this theater. We know he came into this theater, the information I have gotten, at least the last couple of days, you know, so he had a plan. He had the car parked. It wasn't like it just was a random act that he decided to do yesterday. So it's -- it's just one of these things that I don't think anybody can ever explain it.

Like somebody today, psychologists haven't been able to explain this yet.

TAPPER: Yes. No, I hear you, Mr. Durel. Thank you and of course our prayers are with you and your city at this very emotional time. Thanks for talking to us.

DUREL: Well, the issue now is the families of the victims and the victims themselves.

I have talked to a couple of them today, friends of mine that are in the hospital. They were in good spirits considering. Of course, they're counting their blessings. Just such a random act of violence, again, it's just -- it's hard to explain. But this community will come back.

Harvard said we're the happiest city in America. Our hearts are breaking right now. We are hurting, but we will bounce back. It's a great community, a lot of prayers, a lot of people supporting each other. So we will be good.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, sir. I appreciate your time.

DUREL: Thank you. Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to bring in CNN's Miguel Marquez.

Miguel, please describe this gunman, the man responsible for all this pain and all this horror, they describe him as a drifter. An Alabama sheriff said he had been evicted from his home. You have been digging on his past. What are you finding?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He wasn't always a drifter. It appears that in 2001, there was a significant event that rocked his world.

And he lost his business, lost his liquor license in LaGrange, Georgia. In response to that and what he thought was government overreaction, he hung a flag with a swastika on it outside of his business for about a month. It seems that event was the beginning of his unraveling.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): John Russel Houser, known as Rusty, portrayed himself as a self-made business owner, entrepreneur and realtor.

The reality of the 59-year-old who had a law degree from Alabama's Faulkner University appears much different.

COL. MICHAEL EDMONSON, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: We saw in there that there was a restraining order put against him, that his wife was fearful of him, his daughter was fearful of him.

MARQUEZ: A 2008 restraining order offers a glimpse into Houser's life, taken out by his own family, says Houser had a history of manic depression and/or bipolar disorder.

His wife, so concerned about his mental state, removed all guns and/or weapons from their home. The family even sought to have Houser committed to a mental care facility involuntarily, a request granted by a judge.

JIM CRAFT, LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA, POLICE CHIEF: We know he had some contacts early on in the city with some businesses, but, you know, nothing that would have alerted anyone to think maybe that we need to call law enforcement about this fellow or anything like that.

MARQUEZ: In postings last January to the blogging Web site, Houser expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, saying the mass murderer accomplished far more than any other through pragmatically forming.


On the same site, he saluted fundamentalist Muslims who have killed in the name of their religion. And on the Web site between March and May 2013, postings that can mostly be described as nonsensical ramblings, but there are themes. Again and again, he expresses concern about the media/black bloc vote/business/political alliance, his writings expressing fear of gays, the demise the white America, fear of Israel. He says even of the NRA, "I knew they weren't worth a damn."

He calls those who don't agree brainwashed, saying, "I have lived all my life as an oddball. And now there seems to be a purpose in it."

EDMONSON: We're trying to putting those things together, trying to find some closure. It's going to take a while. This is not a 100- yard dash. It's a marathon. MARQUEZ: Just last year, Houser was evicted from his home in Phenix

City, Alabama, and had most recently been his living in a Motel 8. In 2006 in Alabama, he was denied a permit to carry a concealed weapon, because his record showed an arrest for arson in Columbus, Georgia.


MARQUEZ: The other thing that becomes very clear in reading this individual's writings is that he was paranoid to an increasing degree.

He goes back again and again to the idea that the world is falling apart, that they had to arm themselves, that they had to take precautions, and basically painting the world as turning into a "Mad Max" scenario. He uses that term many times over the years, Jake.

TAPPER: Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN justice producer Wes Bruer. Through a bizarre coincidence, he actually knew the shooter.

Wes, thanks so much for being here. How did you know him?

WES BRUER, CNN JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes. Actually, the gunman lived down the street from me, probably about 10 houses down.

TAPPER: When you lived in Alabama.

BRUER: For many years Columbus, Georgia, which is right near Phenix City, Alabama, right there on the border.

TAPPER: Georgia.

BRUER: And it's a pretty small town, a lot of neighborhood activities.

So, you would run into all the families in the neighborhood at different events, at school functions, especially being in elementary school, when parents are so involved in kids' school lives.

And so we would run into him from time to time. And I was fairly close with his daughter as well, his lovely daughter. And he had a great wife, so it was very, very odd that the situation would arise from that seemingly good family.

TAPPER: What was his reputation in the neighborhood?

BRUER: He was known for big very politically charged, a local activist, had ran for local elections, and ran in local politics around there.

And he really was, as Miguel said, a very paranoid man. He was, I believe, in trouble for stealing his opponents' political signs at one point and a lot of just incidents dealing with what he thought were political rivals or business rivals.

TAPPER: You heard some of the things he ranted about online. Did he voice those opinions? Was he publicly aligned with any radical causes or views?

BRUER: Not openly.

And I'm not so sure that I would have been very aware of it at that point, but we do remember things like him flying a Confederate Flag outside of his house or a "Don't Tread on Me" flag outside of house, so you had sort of an inclination that he may have had some sort of fringe ideologies.

TAPPER: Did you ever notice any indication that he would be capable of doing something violent?

BRUER: You know, I don't think I did. And I don't think anybody who really knew him in the times he lived in Columbus or knew his family would think that he would actually carry out a really violent attack, and affect so many families in such a bad way.

I thought it was just more of he was a little bit unstable and not much of a violent threat, at least.

TAPPER: But since then, obviously in 2006, denied a conceal carry permit because of a previous arrest with the arson, in 2008 involuntarily committed, obviously, since you knew him, some bad things in his life.

BRUER: Sure. Absolutely.

Obviously, he's had a lot of rocky phases through his life, and a lot of different incidences that have really shown he's been pretty unstable and getting more unstable as the years have gone on.

TAPPER: Wes, thanks so much for being with us. I know it's not easy to talk about such a horrific thing and somebody you kind of knew doing them. Appreciate your being here. Thanks for stopping by.

BRUER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Stories of heroism from inside the theater, including a teacher who likely saved lives by jumping in front of her friend and reaching for the fire alarm.

But for a young man who watched his girlfriend die, the mental anguish is worse than his physical wounds -- the stories of the survivors and the heroes next.


[16:18:49] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Did the Louisiana gunman have more chaos planned? He had his car parked right outside. Authorities say he only shot himself after police officers cut off his exit.

But it's possible police would not have rushed to the scene in time had it not been for the bravery of one teacher, who scrambled to pull a fire alarm after -- after being clipped with a bullet. Still, her heroics could not stop this lunatic gunman from killing two innocent people.

Boris Sanchez has more on the victims of last night's events.

Boris, tell us about these two women and tell us about the heroes.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, two lives cut tragically short, one of them an artist inextricably woven from the fabric of her community, the other, a student looking at a career in health care, trying to help people. Both women's families and the entire community face a difficult road back to normal.


SANCHEZ (voice-over): This is one of the last times Jillian Johnson would sing with her band. The 33-year-old, one of two victims killed at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, when John Russell Houser opened fire on the crowd.

[16:20:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We cannot lose sight of the fact that a 21-year-old and a 33-year-old beautiful young lady, lost their lives last night. They had a vision, they had a future. I said this earlier, they had a face, they had a name, and it wasn't to die in this theater.

SANCHEZ: In the aftermath of the deadly shooting, a clearer picture emerging of those affected by the violence.

Jillian Johnson ran a boutique with her husband and brother in Lafayette. Friends say she toughed people lives with her creativity. Her band, The Figs, releasing this statement to CNN, quote, "Jillian made everybody more beautiful. She worked to make Lafayette a more beautiful place. And one of the most tragic things that's ever happened here took her. She was a mother, a wife, a sister, an artist, a collaborator, a band member, a friend to so many. We are devastated", end quote.

Twenty-one-year-old Mayci Breaux, a former student at LSU, came to the movie with her boyfriend Matthew. Law enforcement officials tell CNN the couple sat in front of the shooter. Maysi died inside the theater, while Matthew remains at the hospital.

A family members says he's recovering, but struggling with what happened, saying, quote, "Although he's in a lot of pain now, it's nothing compared for the mental anguish he's going through. Their whole family is completely distraught about everything that's going on," end quote.

Doctors at Lafayette General Health where five of the injured, including Matthew, are being treated, reveal a connection to Mayci.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayci Breaux, one of the victims, actually is an X-ray student. She was scheduled to begin radiology school here at Lafayette General just in a few days. And so, this really, it hurts for our staff. SANCHEZ: As for Houser's other victims, doctors say they are expected

to make a full recovery.

Despite tragedy, flashes of heroism -- from two teachers, Ali Martin and Jena Meaux. Ali diving in front of a friend, wounding her leg to keep her out of the shooter's range, and then running to pull a fire alarm, hoping to warn others. Officers say that alarm likely saved lives.


SANCHEZ: Difficult to imagine what the families of these two women are going through right now, both of them clearly beloved in their communities. As for the other victims, it's unclear how long they might be in recovery, doctors not given us a timetable. The good news, though, Jake, is that they will be OK.

TAPPER: All right. Boris, thank you so much.

When we come back, a dark theater with distracted moviegoers, how the killer may have used this all to his advantage. That story next.

Plus, how did a man who had been committed involuntarily for mental health issues and who had an arrest record, how did he get the gun he used? Stay with us.


[16:26:50] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're going to continue with our national lead, the movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, where two people are killed and nine wounded, some of them critically.

Last night's events combined with the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, three years ago this week serve as more evidence that theaters can be a vulnerable targets for deadly violence and represent a nightmare scenario for law enforcement. They're dark. People go in and out unsearched. Movie-goers are vulnerable targets, distracted, seated with mobility.

So, what steps can and should be taken to prevent the next shooting from happening?

CNN's Tom Foreman joins us with more on that part of the story.

Tom, it might seem like these events happen so seldom that people wouldn't take steps, but have steps been taken in Aurora since the shooting three years ago?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they think tried to take steps sort of nationwide, Homeland Security met with theater owners, the movie industry people, and they said, yes, we will take seriously some idea of how we could change things.

But even as they tried to address it, they've had no way to really grapple with the inherent dangers of this so-called soft targets presented by movie theaters, places that are uniquely vulnerable for several key issues.


FOREMAN (voice-over): In the chaos of the latest theater shootings, a sadly common theme. Some people heard the shots, heard the screams, and thought nothing of it.

RANDALL MANN, FATHER OF WITNESS: They heard pops. And they thought it was part of the movie or something until they noticed the flashes. And that's when people realized something was going on.

FOREMAN: It is an understandable mistake. Out of last year's top ten films, eight were action adventures like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", with lots of shooting, crashing and yelling, all amplified by state of the art audio systems.

In Colorado, "The Dark Knight Rising" was rolling when the gunfire began.

QUENTIN CALDWELL, WITNESS TO AURORA SHOOTING: I thought it was good sound effects, something like that. But my wife nudged me and said, no, that's way too loud for something that should be in the movie.

FOREMAN: Another problem, darkness. Police say the Lafayette gunmen clearly took advantage of all eyes being on the bright screen when he started shooting, using the darkness to hide his actions and identity.

JIM CRAFT, LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA POLICE CHIEF: We think that he intended on leaving. He did exit the theater and try to blend in with the crowd, who was also leaving very quickly.

FOREMAN: And lastly, most theaters have limited security even while dealing with millions of people and films that are sometimes emotionally charged.

When "Boys in the Hood" opened in 1991, more than two dozens theaters nationwide had violent outbreaks.

Today, there are nearly 43,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada, and almost 230 million people go to at least one film a year, all with little, if any, security.


FOREMAN: So, while some theater operators met with homeland security and stepped up their safety measures, other operators have argued there's just nothing they can reasonably do to stop a determined killer against all of those different factors.

Still, numerous lawsuits have been launched, especially after the Colorado shooting, suggesting that they at least need to try a little bit harder.

TAPPER: And the idea of soft targets is really the focus here, not just movie theaters. The idea that there are so many places.

FOREMAN: Soft targets in general, but talking about shopping centers or schools or sporting events.