Meet Jena Meaux, a gutsy teacher who used her body as a human shield to protect her friend from a crazed gunman. The actions of these two women – Meaux, a librarian at Jeanerette High School, and her friend Ali Martin, an English teacher at the same school – saved lives of theater-goers after a shooter opened fire, killing two and injuring nine.
The gunman, identified as 59-year-old James Russell “Rusty” Houser, used a Highpoint .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol handgun he legally purchased from an Alabama pawn shop to methodically open fire inside the Grand Theatre 16 in Lafayette, before turning the gun on himself.
Writes WGNO out of Metairie: “Two Jeanerette High School teachers are being hailed as heroes – Jena Meaux and Ali Martin. Jena took a bullet for her friend during the gunfire – saving her life – while Ali managed to pull the fire alarm alerting everyone to the tragedy inside.”
Meaux threw herself atop Martin; in the process she was shot in the leg with a bullet that was meant for her friend. An injured Martin, who had already been shot once, then stood up, and at risk of being shot again, ran over and pulled one of the cinema’s fire alarms, alerting police and evacuating the building. The actions of the two young educators have been singled out as an act of heroism.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said the two teachers saved many lives.
“They were just out to watch a movie for summer break,” Jindal said. “They never thought it would be interrupted by this awful tragedy. I think we are going to hear other stories of heroism as well.”
A coworker of the two women, Cammie Maturin of the Iberia Parish Teacher’s Association, said: “Their training as a teacher went into full effect when this happened. They did what they knew that they had to do. Ali even knew where the fire alarm was. She was knowledgeable enough even after being shot to do that.”
Police called the gunman a “drifter” who suffered from mental problems. Killed in the shooting was 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux.
Layfayette Police Chief Jim Craig said, “It looks like [Houser] spotted the officers coming in and he turned around and he went against the crowd, and he fired a single gunshot. He was seated in the theater just like everybody else. The information we have at this time indicates that he was by himself, sat by himself and the first two people he shot were sitting right in front of him.”
Craig said Houser fired off two, ten-round clips. “Out of 20 rounds he shot 11 people, but some people suffered multiple wounds. One person was shot four times.”
According to CNN, Houser was able to purchase the handgun because his background check did not reveal any serious crimes. Still, Houser did have a history of mental and legal problems. In 2008, Houser’s then-wife took out a restraining order against him. A few years ago, he was evicted from a home and returned to vandalize the property. He’s been in and out of psychiatric hospitals.
Adds CNN: “Craig said police are researching Houser’s movements and reading his journals and his online political blogs, in which he railed against government.”
Moviegoer Keifer Sanders, who was in attendance, said, “There was no argument, nothing going on at all. And a guy just stood up and started opening fire. The guy was just kind of at ease, just standing there, just shooting.”
Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Michael D. Edmonson spoke at a news conference of the fact police have not uncovered a motive yet for the senseless killings. “Why did he come here? Why did he do that? We don’t know that. We may not find a motive.”
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Maturin has started a GoFundMe account on behalf of Jena Meaux and Ali Martin. Maturin writes that “set up this account to collect donations to help Ali and Jena defray the costs of any medical expenses that won’t be covered under their insurance. School starts in just two weeks, so funds will also go toward assisting them recoup any wages lost during their recovery absence.”
As of the writing of this article, nearly $20,000 of the target goal of $40,000 had been raised to help both Ali Martin and Jena Meaux.