(LAFAYETTE, La.) — Emily Mann had just finished laughing at a raunchy moment in the film Trainwreck Thursday evening when the mood in the Grand 16 Theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, changed dramatically.
About 20 minutes in, Mann said a man about five seats down from her stood up, wearing a jacket and hat, and fired a single shot.
“The first shot, I thought it was a firecracker,” Mann, 21, said.
The audience became silent.
“After that first shot … there was this very strange calm,” Mann, said. “Because everybody was just trying to make sure it wasn’t that … anything but that.”
After what Mann described as a long pause, the gunman, identified by police as John Russell Houser, then proceeded to fire in a semi-circle. The blasts from the gun produced flashes of light in the dark theater, she said.
By the time Houser’s pistol reached Mann’s direction, she was on her hands and knees, crawling through the aisle. She said she was waiting for a bullet to be fired into her back.
“There was no pushing each other. People were pulling each other out instead of trying to scramble on top of one another,” Mann said. “I think that that says a lot about the people here.”
“There was an immediate understanding that every single person in that room was going through the same thing and that we all needed to get out,” Mann said.
Mann escaped around a corner, helped by a woman who pulled her to safety.
“By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs a woman pulled me around. And I’d left my purse and my phone everything was there. A shoe,” she said.
“You could just see it in everybody’s face that it was very real,” she said.
Mann then ran with a crowd of people into the lobby.
“I didn’t really hear the screaming until we were out of the theater itself, out of 14 and running down the hall. I still didn’t say anything. I hadn’t screamed yet, it was just run. That’s what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to run,” Mann said.
One of the two women who died from the shooting was 21-year-old Mayci Breaux — who was the same age as Mann.
“She was 21,” Mann said. “She had things she wanted to do.”
With tears in her eyes, Mann admitted she feels a strange sense of guilt she survived.
“I think it could have been any of us,” she said. “They chose those seats.”
“I’ve replayed it a million times, just trying to figure out, you know, had he been a better shot, had he brought an automatic weapon…” Mann said. “All those things that could have gone worse, and it’s all those things that could have lined up to be there,” Mann said. “Had he chosen a different movie, maybe a kids movie?”
Mann also described the contrast between the comfort of the Lafayette community with the violence Houser brought to it.
“We’ve worked so hard to be known for something so much better,” she said. “We’re known for family and for food and for festivals and for comfort. That’s what you feel when you’re here.”
“I think Lafayette as a whole won’t think much of him because he wasn’t one of us,” she said.
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