John Russell Houser, the shooter who killed two people and wounded nine others at the Grand Theatre Lafayette multiplex in Louisiana on Thursday, was likely copycatting Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes, according to a leading authority on criminal psychology.
“There’s a very strong likelihood this could be either and intentional or subliminal type of a copycat situation,” veteran former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt told TheWrap.
He noted the timing of Houser’s attack, which came just one week after Holmes was convicted of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in the 2012 massacre in Aurora. Houser, Van Zandt said, “is a relatively smart guy, notwithstanding his mental health issues, he would have been aware of that.”
Van Zandt, who retired from the FBI in 1995 after 25 years, pointed to other details that suggest a copycat case. “It’s been almost three years to the day that the shooting took place in Aurora, Colorado,” he said. “In that similar situation, the shooter, Holmes, believed that he could escape, parking his car behind the movie theater so that he could go out, jump in a car and drive away. We know this shooter did the same thing. They both had the delusion that they’d be able to commit the crime and then escape.”
About 20 minutes into the screening of the comedy “Trainwreck,” Houser stood up inside Lafayette’s Grand 16 Theatre, pulled out a handgun and began firing indiscriminately.
The shooter, a 58-year-old white man, killed two people and wounded nine others before he turned his gun on himself and took his own life, police said.
“He could have been someone looking for attention or someone looking for revenge,” said Van Zandt. “He had masked glasses, he had stolen license plates on his car so this is something he had planned to do and in his delusional fantasy, perhaps saw taking out his anger, frustration and rage on the world and escaping.”
Van Zandt, who was the U.S. government’s chief hostage negotiator during the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, also believes Houser deliberately chose to commit the act in a movie theater, rather than a mall or a park.
“It provides anonymity,” the profiler said. “You can strike out in the dark. They know the dark hides their deeds. The movie theater is also a very compact environment. You know there’s going to be a lot of people there. You don’t have to be a good shot. It’s the proverbial shooting fish in a barrel.”
Houser’s position in relation to the victims may also have been a factor.
“He takes the high ground,” Van Zandt said. “He’s looking down at everybody and everybody turns out to be his target.”
Van Zandt said authorities will be looking closely at Houser’s toxicology report to see whether alcohol, drugs or prescription medication (or lack thereof) may have played a role.
Mental illness was definitely a factor in the case, Van Zandt said.
Houser suffered from manic depression and bipolar disorder, according to a 2008 protective order filed in Carroll County, Georgia, and spent time in a mental health facility from 2008 to 2009. He was prescribed medication to take daily, but sometimes forgot to take it, according to an incident report.
But unless authorities find a suicide note, Van Zandt said, we’ll likely never find out the most important question in Houser’s violent outburst: Why?
Watch video reactions to the Lafayette movie theater shooting below.