In my last blog post, I stated what I went through last weekend was not worth dying over.
Sadly, two beautiful ladies from Louisiana’s Cajun Country with so much to offer the world didn’t have the choice whether or not to continue their lives.
Jillian Johnson was a 33-year old graphic designer and musician. She owned a fashionable boutique, Red Arrow Workshop, was a member of an all-female Cajun bluegrass band, The Figs, and designed logos for many corporations and groups in Acadiana.
The other murder victim, Kayce Breaux, was a 21-year old native of Franklin, a small city southeast of Lafayette in St. Mary Parish. Franklin is best known ast he home of former Louisiana Governor Mike Foster (1996-2004).
Breaux was a radiology student at LSU-Eunice, a two-year branch of the state’s flagship university. She was scheduled to continue her education in the radiology department of Lafayette General Hospital. Her fiance was with her in the theater and may be one of the wounded.
Johnson and Breaux were murder victims at the hands of John Russel Houser, the 59-year old drifter from eastern Alabama who opened fire in a darkened movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana’s fourth largest incorporated city, which likes to call itself “The Hub City” and the “Capital of Acadiana”.
Lafayette is a booming city of 125,000 located at the junction of Louisiana’s two major Interstate highways, I-10 and I-49. The oil industry is the main cog in the economy of the area. Many high ranking executives work in offices in Lafayette, and many workers on the rigs live in the city and commute to the coastal areas via US 90, which will become part of I-49 in the very near future.
During my years in Louisiana, I made many a trip to Lafayette. Most of the time in the city was spent at the Cajundome, the multi-purpose arena best known as the home to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette basketball teams. The arena also hosted the Louisiana High School Athletic Association boys basketball championship games during the era, and I really enjoyed those games.
I also spent a couple of very forgettable nights in Lafayette in March 2002. My car was stolen from the parking lot of a hotel the first night, and the second night, I witnessed LSU’s baseball team get totally worked over by ULL, and the fans at the Ragin Cajuns’ Moore Field ate it up. My good friend Bill Franques drove me back to Baton Rouge following the game, and the next morning at 4 a.m., I got a call from the Lafayette Police Department that my car had been located off an I-49 exit. It was towed back to Baton Rouge that day and it needed to be repaired.
Bill grew up in Lafayette and graduated from Cathedral-Carmel High School (now St. Thomas More) in 1981. His father, Howard, was an attorney in the city and is well known throughout Baton Rouge and Lafayette for his letters to the editors of The Advocate and the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, most of them shredding Bill Clinton and others of the left-wing ilk.
I had another car related mishap at the same Lafayette hotel in 2005. I left something plugged into the socket, and the battery of the rental car was drained. Since it was a rental, Avis came by and replaced my car with no trouble.
Lafayette would be the last of Louisiana’s major cities where I would expect something like this to occur. Sure, there are bad areas, just like there are in any city of appreciable size, but such incidents are nowhere near as frequent as the other three big cities of Louisiana:
- Shreveport has had gang problems going back to the 1950s and murder and drug use are rampant in pockets of the northwest Louisiana city.
- Baton Rouge has gotten very bad. Very bad. The areas north of the LSU campus are ghettos. So are many parts of nroth Baton Rouge and Baker, a small city just north of the city limits.
- New Orleans? Still as dangerous as Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis. In 1994, the year I graduated from Brother Martin High School, there were 421 murders. That’s more than a murder a day for those mathematically challenged.
This is not the worst incident of spree killing in Louisiana.
That dishonor belongs to Mark Essex, the former Black Panther who killed seven, incuding three New Orleans Police Department officers, during a siege at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s (now a Holiday Inn) in the Crescent City’s Central Buisness District on January 7, 1973. Essex grew up in Emporia and entered the Navy two years later. He had a cushy job in the dental office at the San Diego naval base, but went AWOL and was dishonorably discharged for unsuitability. Essex also killed two police officers one week prior to the siege at the Howard Johnson’s, and also started the November 29, 1972 fire at the Rault Center, another high rise near the Howard Johnson’s, which killed five.
In January 1972, there was a shootout in downtown Baton Rouge between Black Muslims and Baton Rouge police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Four died, and WBRZ television news reporter Bob Johnson was severely paralyzed.
It’s pouring in many Kansas locales along the Nebraska border tonight. Of course, none of that rain will come close to Russell. Typical.