A lone gunman opened fire inside a crowded movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Thursday evening, killing two people and injuring seven others before taking his own life, police said.
Gunfire erupted during a 7 p.m. CDT (0000 GMT) showing of the film “Trainwreck”. The incident took place almost three years to the day after 12 people were killed at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said two people died in the hail of bullets before the 58-year-old suspect killed himself with a handgun as officers rushed to the scene shortly after 7:30 p.m.
Seven people were wounded, three of them critically, authorities said. One person underwent surgery and “was not doing well,” Craft said.
Authorities said they knew the gunman’s identity but were not releasing his name during the early stage of the investigation. They offered no immediate motive and did not disclose any clues they might have found.
“The shooter is deceased. We may never know,” Craft said, adding that the man appeared to have a criminal history that he described as “pretty old.”
Police officials said that bomb-sniffing dogs had picked out a backpack inside the Grand 16 Theater and that they had also signaled “suspicious” items inside the suspect’s car. A robot was being used to probe the vehicle further.
Investigators also headed to the gunman’s home. His body remained inside the theater several hours later. None of the victims, who were described as ranging in age from teens to early 60s, were immediately identified by authorities.
Witnesses said the gunman abruptly stood up in the darkness of the theater about 20 minutes into the movie and began shooting.
“He wasn’t saying anything. I didn’t hear anybody screaming either,” Katie Domingue, who was watching the film with her fiance, told the local Advertiser newspaper.
Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal traveled to Lafayette, a city of about 120,000 people roughly 55 miles (90 km) southwest of Baton Rouge.
“As governor, as a father and as a husband, whenever we hear about these senseless acts of violence it makes us both furious and sad at the same time,” he said at a briefing.
Jindal said that two of the wounded victims were teachers, one of whom told him that she survived the attack because her friend rolled over her as bullets rang out. That teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm in the theater, he said.
Four police officers in the area heard the gunfire and rushed to the theater, which is on a main thoroughfare near downtown, authorities said.
The shooting came three years after a gunman opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises”, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.
James Holmes, a former neuroscience graduate student at the University of Colorado, was convicted last week on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and explosives in the July 20, 2012, rampage.
Jurors in that case were trying to determine if Holmes should face the death penalty or life in prison.
The United States has witnessed several mass shootings in the last two months.
A gunman is accused of a racially motivated shooting at a black church in South Carolina that killed nine church members in June. More recently, a gunman attacked military offices in Tennessee last week, killing five U.S. servicemen.
Jindal, who last month announced his candidacy for president, said he had ordered National Guard members at offices and other facilities to be armed in the wake of the Tennessee attack.