LAFAYETTE, La. (CBS News) — A lone gunman sitting in a packed movie theater in southwestern Louisiana stood up about 20 minutes into a showing of “Trainwreck” and began firing into the crowd, killing two people and wounding at least nine others Thursday night before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.
The gunman initially tried escaping 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.
They described the shooter as a 58-year-old “lone white male” with a criminal history but did not immediately disclose his name. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said the gunman was by himself and started the rampage by shooting the two people sitting in front of him.
At least one theatergoer said a man stood up about 20 minutes into the 7:10 p.m. showing of the movie 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 newspaper.
“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.
Investigators said the shooting appears to have been random, not targeted, reports CBS Lafayette affiliate KLFY-TV.
The theater bans concealed weapons of any kind, says CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.
Lucas Knepper was seated in the same row as the gunman, says Villafranca. Knepper said there were several empty seats between them.
“We look to the left and it’s the shooter just standing up just shooting at the whole crowd,” Knepper said. ” … He was, like, 6-7 seats down from us. … He just looked like a common guy off the streets, good looking guy, just normal … (with) white hair white facial hair. And said nothing.”
Witnesses heard popping noises and saw flashes of light, reports Villafranca. Some people ran out without their shoes and abandoned their belongings.
Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene about an hour west of the state capital of Baton Rouge within hours of the shooting, telling reporters 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,” the 2016 presidential hopeful said.
President 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.
President 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 who were killed.
The shooting took place a week after James Holmes, 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.
Craft said at a news conference that police know who the gunman is, and that he had a criminal history, but they are not immediately releasing his name. State police superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said the body of the shooter and “at least one other person” were still inside the theater. He said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting. The third person who died did so in a hospital, Craft said.
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