LAFAYETTE, La. -- A lone gunman sitting in a packed movie theater in southwestern Louisiana stood up about 20 minutes into a showing of "Trainwreck" and began firing into the crowd, killing two people and wounding at least nine others Thursday night before fatally shooting himself, authorities said.
The gunman initially tried escaping by blending into the fleeing crowd, but turned back when he saw police heading inside from the parking lot, authorities said. Officers tailing him back into the theater then heard a single gunshot and found him dead inside, police said.
They described the shooter as a 58-year-old "lone white male" with a criminal history but did not immediately disclose his name. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said the gunman was by himself and started the rampage by shooting the two people sitting in front of him.
At least one theatergoer said a man stood up about 20 minutes into the 7:10 p.m. showing of the movie at the Grand 16 theater in Lafayette and began shooting.
"We heard a loud pop we thought was a firecracker," Katie Domingue told The Advertiser newspaper.
"He wasn't saying anything. I didn't hear anybody screaming either," said Domingue, who added that she heard about six shots before she and her fiance ran to the nearest exit, leaving behind her shoes and purse.
Investigators said the shooting appears to have been random, not targeted, reports CBS Lafayette affiliate KLFY-TV.
The theater bans concealed weapons of any kind, says CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca.
Lucas Knepper was seated in the same row as the gunman, says Villafranca. Knepper said there were several empty seats between them.
"We look to the left and it's the shooter just standing up just shooting at the whole crowd," Knepper said. " ... He was, like, 6-7 seats down from us. ... He just looked like a common guy off the streets, good looking guy, just normal ... (with) white hair white facial hair. And said nothing."
Witnesses heard popping noises and saw flashes of light, reports Villafranca. Some people ran out without their shoes and abandoned their belongings.
Stories of heroism immediately began to emerge, with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who traveled to the scene about an hour west of the state capital of Baton Rouge within hours of the shooting, telling reporters a teacher who was in the theater jumped in front of a second teacher, saving her life. The second teacher then managed to pull a fire alarm to alert other moviegoers, he said.
"Her friend literally jumped over her and, by her account, actually saved her life," the 2016 presidential hopeful said.
President Obama was briefed on the shooting aboard Air Force One by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security adviser, while on his way to Africa for a two-nation visit, the White House said.
Mr. Obama asked his team to keep him updated on the investigation and the status of those wounded. He also offered his thoughts and prayers to the community and to the families of those who were killed.
The shooting took place a week after James Holmes, the man who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., was convicted and on the very day a jury said his attack was cruel enough to consider sentencing him to death.
Nine people ranging in age from their late teens to their late 60s were wounded, Craft said. At least one of those was in critical condition and being operated on at an area hospital, he said. The conditions of the others were not immediately known.
Craft said at a news conference that police know who the gunman is, and that he had a criminal history, but they are not immediately releasing his name. State police superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson said the body of the shooter and "at least one other person" were still inside the theater. He said there were about 100 people inside the theater at the time of the shooting. The third person who died did so in a hospital, Craft said.
Edmonson added that police believe the gunman fired shots only at the theater and had not waged an attack anywhere else beforehand. However, authorities said they were not releasing his name immediately in part so police could safely track down and interview friends or family who knew the shooter.
"We have no reason to believe that this individual acted beyond this location here," Edmonson said.
He said police saw something suspicious inside the shooter's car and that a bomb-sniffing dog "hit on three different locations" in the vehicle, "so out of an abundance of caution we brought in the bomb squad."
No explosives were found in the car or in the theater complex.
"Trainwreck" star Amy Schumer took to Twitter after learning of the shooting:
Gov. Jindal called the shooting "an awful night for Louisiana."
"What we can do now is we can pray," Jindal said. "We can hug these families. We can shower them with love, thoughts and prayers."
Outside the movie theater complex hours after the shooting, a couple of dozen police cars were still at the scene, which authorities had cordoned off with police tape as onlookers took photos with their cellphones.
A small group of theater employees stood outside the police perimeter. A man who identified himself as a general manager declined to be interviewed: "We would appreciate it if you could give us some space," he said.
Landry Gbery, 26, of Lafayette, was watching a different movie, "Self/less" at the time of the shooting when the lights came up and a voice over the intercom told everyone there was an emergency and they needed to leave.
Gbery said he never heard gunshots, and assumed the emergency was a fire until he got outside and saw a woman lying on the ground.
"I was really anxious for everybody at that point," Gbery said. "Fortunately I was lucky. I took the right exit."
Tanya Clark was at the concession stand in the lobby when she saw people screaming and running past her. She said she immediately grabbed her 5-year-old daughter and ran.
"In that moment, you don't think about anything," Clark, 36, told The New York Times. "That's when you realize that your wallet and phone are not important."
Clark's son, Robert Martinez, said he saw an older woman run past with blood streaming down her leg, and screaming that someone had shot her.
The Louisiana shooting occurred three years after James Holmes entered a crowded movie theater in suburban Denver and opened fire during the premier of a Batman film, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.
A jury last week quickly convicted Holmes on 165 counts of murder, attempted murder and other charges, rejecting defense arguments that he was insane and suffering delusions that drove him to the July 20, 2012, attack.
Prosecutors said Holmes planned and carried out the massacre to assuage the pain of his failures in graduate school and in romance. Defense lawyers said schizophrenia had been growing inside Holmes' mind for years and eventually overwhelmed him, creating a delusion that he could improve his self-worth by killing others and absorbing their value.