LAFAYETTE, La. - A gunman sitting in a packed movie theater stood up about 20 minutes into the showing of "Trainwreck" and began firing into the crowd, killing two and wounding at least nine others before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.
The gunman, who authorities identified as 59-year-old John Russel Houser, initially tried escaping Thursday night by blending into the fleeing crowd, but turned back when he saw police heading inside from the parking lot, authorities said. Officers tailing him back into the theater then heard a single gunshot and found him dead inside, police said.
The two victims who were killed have been identified as 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said Houser was by himself and started the rampage by shooting the two people sitting in front of him.
At least one theatergoer described the attack, saying an older man stood up about 20 minutes into the 7:10 p.m. showing of the movie "Trainwreck" at the Grand 16 theater in Lafayette and began shooting.
"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," Katie Domingue told The Advertiser.
"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," said Domingue, who added that she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.
Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge with presidential hopeful Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene within hours of the shooting, telling reporters that a teacher who was in the theater jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.
"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," Jindal said.
President Barack Obama was briefed on the shooting aboard Air Force One by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa for a two-nation visit, the White House said.
Obama asked his team to keep him updated on the investigation and the status of those wounded. He also offered his thoughts and prayers to the community and to the families of those killed.
The shooting took place a week after the man who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., was convicted and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.
Nine people ranging in age from their late teens to their late 60s were wounded, Craft said. At least one of those was in critical condition and being operated on at an area hospital, he said. The conditions of the others were not immediately known.
Early Friday, about a dozen law enforcement personnel were gathered at a Motel 6 in Lafayette. Louisiana State Police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain said the investigation led them to a room at the Motel 6. Authorities were investigating whether the shooter had stayed there, Cain said. He said the bomb squad swept the room before going in as a precaution.
About a dozen police personnel could be seen outside the motel. At one point, an officer carried out a cardboard box from the room and other officers could be seen knocking on neighboring doors.
Edmonson added that police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand. "We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here," Edmonson said.
He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter's car and that a bomb-sniffing dog "hit on three different locations" in the vehicle, "so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad."
No explosives were found in the car or in the theater complex.
"Trainwreck" star Amy Schumer sent a tweet: "My heart is broken and all my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Louisiana." The comedy stars Schumer as a magazine writer who decides to live a life of promiscuity after her father convinces her that monogamy isn't realistic, but in spite of her best efforts, finds herself falling in love with one of her interview subjects.
Gov. Jindal called the shooting "an awful night for Louisiana."
"What we can do now is we can pray," Jindal said. "We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers."
Lafayette is about 60 miles west of the state capital of Baton Rouge.