Police stand outside the cinema where a 'drifter' opened fire during a filming of Trainwreck in Lafayette, Louisiana. Photo: AP
Lafayette: An Alabama "drifter" fired at least 13 shots inside a crowded cinema in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two women and injuring seven before taking his own life, police said.
The gunfire erupted during a crowded 7pm showing of the Amy Schumer film Trainwreck. Two people died in the hail of bullets before the 59-year-old suspect, identified as John Houser, killed himself with a .40 caliber handgun as officers rushed to the scene, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told a Friday morning press conference.
Authorities said seven people were wounded, three of them critically. One person underwent surgery and "was not doing well," Craft said.
Authorities have identified John Russel Houser as the gunman who opened fire in a movie theatre on Thursday, in Lafayette. Photo: AP
The two victims were identified as Mayci Breaux, 21 and Jillian Johnson, 33.
Police did not immediately offer a motive.
"The shooter is deceased. We may never know," Craft said, adding that the man had criminal history that he described as "pretty old".
The parking lot outside the cinema. The investigation was briefly halted when police found the gunman's vehicle and found what they said was a "suspicious package" inside. Photo: AP
Craft told the press conference that the gunman tried to sneak out of the cinema with the crowd after the shooting. He was forced back inside by the quick arrival of police, before shooting himself.
"It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and escaping," he said, noting that Houser's car, a blue Lincoln Continental, was parked outside the cinema near an exit.
Houser was "kind of a drifter" who had moved to Lafayette recently from Alabama, Craft said.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft addresses the media. Photo: AP
Police found wigs and glasses and disguises in his motel room, he added.
Witnesses said the gunman abruptly stood up in the darkness of the Grand 16 cinema about 20 minutes into the movie and began shooting.
"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," Katie Domingue, who was watching the film with her fiance, told the local Advertiser newspaper.
Jacob Broussard said he was standing in line to go inside the the cinema when the shooting occured. Photo: AP
The bullets sent people scrambling from the cinema, situated on a main thoroughfare in Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 people roughly 90 kilometres south-west of Baton Rouge, police said.
Amy Schumer, Trainwreck's writer and star, tweeted, "My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana."
My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana.— Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) July 24, 2015
Police surround the Grand Theatre following a shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana. Photo: AP
Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal went to Lafayette to meet law enforcement and victims.
"This is an awful night for Lafayette. This is an awful night for Louisiana. This is an awful night for the United States," said Jindal.
Two of the wounded victims were teachers, he said, one of whom told him that she survived the attack because her friend rolled over her as bullets rang out. That teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm in the cinema, he said.
Amy Schumer at the Trainwreck Australian premiere. Photo: Brendon Thorne
Tanya Clark, 36, who was at the cinema to see another movie, was at the concession stand with her three children when she saw people run screaming through the lobby.
"I thought it was just a joke," said her son, Robert Martinez, 17. "People were screaming."
He said a woman in her 60s ran past them shouting that she had been shot in the leg. He saw blood pouring down her leg, he said.
Clark said she grabbed her five-year-old daughter and ran, leaving her purse and phone on the concession stand counter.
"I just grabbed her arm," she said. "In that moment, you don't think about anything. That's when you realise that your wallet and phone are not important."
The investigation inside the cinema was briefly halted when police found the gunman's vehicle and found what they said was a "suspicious package" inside. A bomb squad was called and the vehicle's windows and trunk were blown up. The car was to be towed from the lot.
Officials said a suspicious backpack and other small items found in the cinema were being examined. A robot was brought in for use in the investigation.
The shooting came three years after a gunman opened fire at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.
James Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, was convicted last week on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and explosives in the July 20, 2012, rampage.
Jurors in that case were trying to determine if Holmes should face the death penalty or life in prison.
The United States has witnessed several mass shootings in the last two months.
A gunman is accused of a racially motivated shooting at a black church in South Carolina that killed nine church members in June. More recently, a gunman attacked military offices in Tennessee last week, killing five US servicemen.
Jindal, who last month announced his candidacy for president, said he had ordered National Guard members at offices and other facilities to be armed in the wake of the Tennessee attack.
In a BBC interview excerpt that aired on Thursday before the shooting, US President Barack Obama said his biggest frustration was the failure to pass "common-sense gun safety laws" in the United States.
Obama, who was travelling to Kenya on Friday, received a briefing about the shooting during a refuelling stop in Germany, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
"The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the White House, including the President and First Lady, are with the community of Lafayette, Louisiana, especially the families of those who were killed," a statement said.
Reuters, New York Times