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Suspect in theater rampage had history of mental illness

shootingLAFAYETTE, Louisiana--A 59-year-old man who had been committed to a hospital for psychiatric care was identified by authorities on Friday as the gunman who fatally shot two people in a rampage at a crowded movie theater in central Louisiana before turning the gun on himself as police closed in.

The suspected gunman, John R. Houser, who houserhad a history of mental illness and railed against the U.S. government online, opened fire with a .40 caliber handgun about 20 minutes into the comedy film "Trainwreck," sending panicked theatergoers ducking behind seats and running for the exits. One woman pulled the fire alarm.

"This is a normal movie theater in a normal part of a normal town. This is Anywhere, USA," said Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, who went to the crime scene in the city of Lafayette to meet with law enforcement and victims. "This just shows these senseless acts of violence can literally happen anywhere."

Before purchasing a ticket for the 7 p.m. show, Houser parked his blue Lincoln Continental near the theater's emergency exit in what police said appeared to be preparations for a quick getaway. He had switched its license plates and stashed the keys on top of a tire. Disguises including glasses and women's wigs were later uncovered in a local motel room where he was staying.

"It is apparent that he was intent on shooting and escaping," Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said, who described Houser as an unemployed "drifter" from Phenix City, Alabama.

Houser never made it back to his car. As police swarmed the Grand 16 Theater, located along main thoroughfare in Lafayette, he reloaded his .40 caliber handgun, re-entered the theater and killed himself, police said.

Police said they did not know why the suspect launched the attack in Lafayette, roughly 55 miles (90 km) southwest of the state capital Baton Rouge. "Certainly it exists out there that we may not find a motive but that's not our goal right now," Colonel Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police told reporters.

The shooting was the latest in a series of mass killings in the United States, including the fatal shooting of five U.S. servicemen in Tennessee, and the massacre of nine African Americans at a South Carolina church in recent weeks. The latest act of apparently random gun violence came almost three years to the day after 12 people were killed at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado. It is likely to heat up a festering political debate in the United States over access to weapons and the right to bear arms, protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. President Barack Obama had told the BBC in an interview aired on Thursday before the shooting that his biggest frustration was the failure to pass "common-sense gun safety laws."

Authorities said seven were wounded in the Lafayette rampage, three of them critically. The two victims were identified as Mayci Breaux, 21, from Franklin, Louisiana, and Jillian Johnson, 33, from Lafayette. Breaux was about to begin studies at Lafayette General Hospital to become an x-ray technician. Johnson owned a Lafayette gift shop.

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