The innocence of the "happiest town in the country" shattered by senseless violence
Like William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, the town of Lafayette, La., has undergone a transformation.
Last year it was voted happiest town in the country. The region, known as Acadiana, has a strong Catholic history and culture and “has always been a loving joyful place,” said one resident. “But the love and prayers are flowing from broken hearts today.”
Thursday evening, 59-year-old John Russell Houser, of Phenix City, Alabama, walked into the Lafayette multiplex’s 7:10 showing of “Trainwreck,” a comedy about a sexually adventurous young woman. Shortly before 7:30, he began shooting, firing at least 15 rounds. Witnesses said he stood at the back of the auditorium and fired down at others.
In the end, there were nine wounded and three dead, including the gunman, who shot himself.
Killed in the rampage were Jillian Johnson, 33, who ran local clothing and art boutiques, played in a band and planted fruit trees for neighbors and the homeless, and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, who was scheduled to begin radiology school at Lafayette General hospital in a few days.
According to Heavy.com, Breaux was active in her high school’s Christian Ministry and was a pro-life activist. She "marched on Washington, D.C., as part of rally in March 2011," the report said, though it’s not clear what rally that was.
In December 2012, on her Twitter page, Breaux retweeted a message that read, “During pregnancy if a mother suffers organ damage, the baby in the womb sends stem cells to repair the damaged organ.”
Ironically, according to numerous reports, the man who killed her was rabidly anti-abortion. Calvin Floyd, who hosted a morning phone-in on WLTZ-TV in Georgia, told Alabama.com that Houser was a regular caller and would advocate for violence against abortion doctors and pro-choice activists.
Breaux was the niece of “a very close friend that our kids call Uncle Billy,” said Mary-Rose L. Verret, director with her husband, Ryan, of Witness to Love: Marriage Prep Renewal Ministry, in an interview. “He called my husband yesterday and talked for an hour just trying to make sense of it. He is one of 10 kids and that is a great family. As horrific as all of this has been it is beautiful to see tears and forgiveness and not hate.”
Houser’s motive is unclear, said Colonel Michael D. Edmonson of the State Police. “To put a motive to it is just something that we simply can’t do right now,” he said. But it’s clear the man had a troubled background. In 1989, for example, he was accused of trying to hire a man to start a fire at a law firm that represented pornographic theaters, according to the New York Times. A grand jury declined to indict him, but not before a Superior Court judge in Muscogee County ordered Houser to undergo a psychiatric examination because his competency had “been called into question.”
The Times discovered that Houser believed women should not work outside the home and “had a lot of hostility toward abortion clinics,” according to an acquaintance. He was the sort of person who believed “that all the trouble started when they took Bibles out of school and stopped prayer.”
In court papers, family members said he had “perpetrated various acts of family violence,” and cited “a substantial likelihood of future family violence.” They described him as having bipolar disorder, for which he had been prescribed medication, which he sometimes failed to take.//
The town has mourned in a peaceful manner.