About 20 minutes into the 7 p.m. show at the Grand 16 Theater in Lafayette, the shooter, identified by law enforcement officials Friday morning as John Russel Houser, stood up in the theater and began firing a handgun into the audience. The shooter, who authorities said was a white male “drifter” in his late 50s, then turned the weapon on himself.
“We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker,” Katie Domingue, who had gone to see Trainwreck with her fiancee, told The Daily Advertiser. “He wasn’t saying anything. I didn’t hear anybody screaming either.”
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told reporters that nine people in total were wounded in the shooting. He said at least one of them was in critical condition. “At this point we have three dead, nine wounded and of the three dead one is definitely the shooter,” he said.
Craft said in a separate news conference Friday morning that Houser, originally from Alabama, was “kind of a drifter” who had been staying at a local hotel since the beginning of the month, CNN reports. Disguises were found in his hotel room. Craft praised the “quick law enforcement response” for preventing him escaping.
The White House said President Obama had been briefed on the shooting aboard Air Force One on Thursday by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa for a two-nation visit.
Authorities on Friday were attempting to piece together the sequence of events from eyewitness accounts. “There was a female lying on the ground with blood coming out of her everywhere — she was shot,” Jalen Fernell, who was in the adjacent theater, told CNN. “We’d heard nothing but gunshots — like a war was going on. We didn’t know if the guy was in a car somewhere, if he’s in the parking lot — we didn’t know what to do.”
Clay Henry, an official with a local ambulance service in Lafayette, said that emergency workers were dispatched to the scene at about 7:30 p.m. A schoolteacher pulled a fire alarm in the theater after another teacher jumped in front of her to save her from a bullet, the Associated Press reports.
Authorities arrived quickly, “literally running into the theater as shots were being fired,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a news conference shortly before midnight. Nine people were taken to the hospital with injuries ranging from non-life threatening to critical. At least one victim required urgent surgery.
“The police have closed off all the exits to the parking lot, and they’re questioning the people who were in the theater,” Rebecca Vickers, the manager of Mellow Mushroom, a restaurant close to the theater, told TIME.
Vickers said that the restaurant closed early after two off-duty employees arrived at the theater to see a film, only to be warned not to go inside. She also said that the police were conducting a bomb sweep of the theater. Shortly after midnight, the Associated Press reported that a suspicious package inside the shooter’s car prompted the police to evacuate the area altogether, though Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft later said it was a false alarm.
Local television station KATC also reported a bomb threat at a condominium complex across the street from the Grand 16 Theater, though it remains unclear if it was linked to the theater shooting.
It was, Jindal said after arriving at the scene, an “awful night for Lafayette… for Louisiana… and for the United States.”
“As a governor, as a father, as a husband, whenever we hear about these senseless acts of violence, it makes us sad and furious at the same time,” the governor said. “There’s no reason why this evil should intrude on families just out for a night of entertainment.”
Amy Schumer, who stars in Trainwreck, was quick to express her sympathies to the victims and their loved ones.