COLUMBUS, GA/PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) - Those who knew John Houser, the gunman in Thursday night's theater shooting in Louisiana are speaking publicly. Friends of John Houser, also known as "Rusty", describes him as a man with a dark past.
For many years, the Boutwell's befriended John Houser and they say his behavior was unpredictable and erratic at time. However, they were still shocked to hear someone they knew is responsible for killing two people and himself and injuring several others.
Mona Boutwell lived next door to John Houser's parents on Lynda Lane for many years in Columbus. His mother no longer lives in the neighborhood and moved away some time ago, but Boutwell and her husband would still get visits from Houser.
"He was very high-strung and angry but he always smiled," said Mona Boutwell.
Boutwell describes a sick feeling when she found out Houser was the man police say was responsible for the theater shooting in Louisiana.
"It was devastating. To know somebody that committed something that horrific and tragic," said Boutwell.
The Russell County Sheriff's Office confirms Houser spent time in the East Alabama Mental Health Center back in 2008, but the reason is still unknown.
"Had he been committed through our probate but he was not, we believe that he went in on his own," said Sheriff Heath Taylor.
And to Boutwell, she says it was apparent Houser was suffering with some sort of mental illness.
"Rusty was not all there, you would know it because he was jittery and always wired," added Boutwell.
He was also denied a concealed-carry permit in 2006 because of prior run-ins with the law, especially in Columbus.
Sheriff Heath Taylor of Russell County said Houser had a domestic violence complaint against him by his wife in October 2005, but it was never prosecuted.
"And in '89 or '90, he was arrested for an arson case in Columbus, GA," said Taylor.
Police say Houser lived in Phenix City off and on from 2005-2014 but spent most of his lifetime in Columbus.
He would often share stories of his troubles with Mona's husband. The last time the Boutwells heard and saw from Houser was last year.
"He wanted to borrow some money and my husband told him to come by and get with him. He was always borrowing money. Rusty didn't work," said Mona Boutwell.
She added she's tried to contact Houser's mother but to no avail. She mentioned he did not have a close relationship with his immediate family.
She can only hope for the best for those left to deal with this tragedy.
"My prayers are with all the victims and all the people that were torn apart by this. His mother, brother and sister," said Boutwell.
Houser was considered a drifter since leaving his Phenix City home in 2014.
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