Two people have been killed and nine injured after a gunman — identified today as 58-year-old John Russell Houser — fired into a packed movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana during a showing of the film Trainwreck on Thursday night.
The lone shooter stood up about 20 minutes into the movie, before spraying the crowd with bullets. He then attempted to escape with the fleeing crowd, but turned around again when he saw police outside, according to authorities.
Officers tailing him back into the theater then heard a single gunshot and found him dead inside, police said.
They initially described the shooter as a "lone white male" with a "criminal history." Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said he started the rampage by shooting the two people sitting in front of him.
"It's a pretty horrific scene with that many people being shot," he said at a press conference on Friday.
In response to a further question from reporters, Craft replied: "What everybody is wondering is why would this guy come here to this theater and start just randomly shooting people? It's too early to have any of those answers."
One theatergoer described the attack, saying an older white man stood up about 20 minutes into the 7.10pm showing at the Grand 16 theater in Lafayette and began shooting.
"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," Katie Domingue told the Louisiana 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, including a story of a teacher in the theater who jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life. A second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.
The shooting took place a week after the man who shot and killed 12 people at a theater in Aurora, Colorado was convicted and on the same day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.
At a news conference state police superintendent Colonel Michael D. Edmonson said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting.
Edmonson added that police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand. However, authorities said they were not releasing his name immediately in part so police could safely track down and interview friends or family who knew the shooter.
"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."
Police also said they had searched a room in Motel 6 in Lafayette where the shooter may have stayed.
Hours before the shooting, American President Barack Obama told the BBC that he felt his failure to pass "common sense gun safety laws" in the US is the greatest frustration of his presidency.
"If you ask me what is the one area where I have been the most frustrated and the most stymied, it is the fact that the [US] is the one advanced nation on earth where we do not have sufficient common sense gun safety laws, even in the face of repeated mass killings," Obama said. "For us not to be able to resolve that issue has been something that is distressing."
Trainwreck star Amy Schumer sent a tweet reading: "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.
Lafayette is about 60 miles west of the state capital of Baton Rouge. Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.
A small group of theater employees stood outside the police perimeter. A man who identified himself as a general manager declined to be interviewed: "We would appreciate it if you could give us some space," he said.
Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, Self/less in the same theater at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and that they needed to leave.
Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.
"I was really anxious for everybody at that point," Gbery said. "Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit."
Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.
"In that moment, you don't think about anything," Clark, 36, told the New York Times. "That's when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important."
Clark's son Robert Martinez said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.
The Associated Press contributed to this report