Lafayette theater gunman spent weeks before rampage drinking beer at a motel pool

A worker at a Motel 6 where John Rusty Houser stayed says he never saw him with a gun or knew him to be violent. (AP)
A worker at a Motel 6 where John Rusty Houser stayed says he never saw him with a gun or knew him to be violent. (AP)

LAFAYETTE, La. — The gunman who opened fire on Lafayette moviegoers before killing himself spent the final weeks of his life drinking and tanning poolside at a pay-by-the-week motel.

“The only thing he ever done was lay his ass at the pool and drink them cold beers,” said a man who helps run a Motel 6 where John “Rusty” Houser had been staying.

The worker spoke to Yahoo News, but asked that his name not be published because he is not authorized to talk for the company.

“We’re trying to clean it up, and then this happens,” he said of the previously crime-riddled motel. “It don’t make us look too good.”

Houser’s stay at the motel since early July was apparently uneventful — aside from the 59-year-old’s penchant for wearing a bright-yellow Speedo bathing suit while at the pool.

I told him, ‘If I catch you down here again like that, I'm going to run you plum outta here,” the man said.

He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” as he hustled back to Room 218 to put on more clothing, the worker said. “He was very nice to everybody.”

Police said the Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette, La. will remain a crime scene until earlier next week. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo News.)
Police said the Grand 16 movie theater in Lafayette, La. will remain a crime scene until earlier next week. (Jason Sickles/Yahoo News.)

Police said Houser, sitting alone in the rear of the theater, killed two people, wounded nine and then committed suicide at the Grand 16 movie theater on Thursday. Mayci Breaux, 21, and Jillian Johnson, 33, died in the tragedy. Funeral services for both are scheduled for Monday.

Houser’s social media postings portray a right-wing extremist with a history of erratic behavior, but the motel staff never saw Houser with a gun or knew him to be violent.

“He was like a kitten,” the man said in a thick Cajun accent. “I don’t understand it, I really don’t. It’s still got me bloated today.”

Police remain equally puzzled. When they searched Room 218 on Friday, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said they discovered wigs, eyeglasses and other items which might be used in disguises.

On Saturday, authorities said they were studying Houser’s cell phone records, Internet activity and other leads to uncover a motive for the killings and determine what brought the Georgia native to Lafayette, a college town 50 miles west of Baton Rouge.

“Our intelligence section is still analyzing a lot of that,” Lafayette Police Col. Paul Mouton told reporters.

Moulton added that other police departments in Louisiana and elsewhere have reached out to them with leads because “they feel they have had some kind of contact or run-in with this individual.”

[Related: Timeline of theater gunman’s life]

Investigators and Houser’s estranged family said he was evicted from a home near the Alabama-Georgia stateline in 2014. This March, Houser’s estranged wife filed for divorce.

The AP reported that Kellie Houser said he lashed out at her, saying, “I’d better watch out, because he always wins.”

The divorce papers also allege that Houser phoned his elderly mother and “threatened to commit suicide in front of the retirement community where he believes her to be living if she didn’t give him money.” Against Kellie Houser’s urging, Houser’s mother sent him $5,000, the Associated Press reported.

Houser’s family said he had a history of manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder, but his older brother told The Advocate, “We didn’t see this coming.”

“I don't know what happened, he just slowly deteriorated,” said Rem Houser, who had not been close with his brother in many years.

Rem Houser told the newspaper that he has received numerous messages since the shooting from people saying, “Hey, we understand this is not Rusty, we remember the good Rusty.”

The man at the Motel 6 said he saw the “good Rusty” too. On numerous occasions, he said, Houser asked if he could help do handyman work, like pressure-washing and other chores.

“For free!” the man added.

For a few days during his stay, Houser wanted to try to sell his blue 1995 Lincoln Continental from the motel parking lot, the man said.

“I said, ‘This ain’t no car lot, so he dropped that,” the man said.

[Related: Movie theater shooter's mental problems didn't stop gun buy]

One afternoon, the man said he walked up on Houser discussing politics with construction workers at the pool.

“You couldn’t ask that man anything about politics that he didn’t know; he was very educated,” the man said.

Rem Houser told The Advocate that he brother was very bright, but went awry after college.

“We all know people who have jumped around jobs, cannot get happy somewhere, can’t settle down ... a lot of people never find that sweet spot,” Rem Houser told the newspaper.

When asked if Houser drank much during his time at the Motel 6, the worker pursed his lips and made a sucking sound.

“He was an alcoholic,” said the man, shaking his head in disbelief at what has transpired. “Those girls, all they wanted to do was go to the picture show. They didn’t deserve what happened to them.”

On Saturday, as a group of children splashed in the motel pool, workers grabbed an empty Bud Light off the pool deck.

“We just picked up the last beer that he ever drank,” the man said.

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).

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