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LAFAYETTE, Louisiana — The gunman who opened fire at a movie theater last week was not involuntarily committed to a hospital — a red flag that would have triggered local officials to report his mental health history to federal authorities.
Officials in Georgia clarified Monday that John “Rusty” Houser was never involuntarily committed in 2008 despite previous reports — a distinction that would have prevented him from buying the gun he used in the rampage.
According to the petition for a personal protection order, Houser’s family says that on April 22, 2008, it petitioned a judge to involuntarily commit Houser because “he was a danger to himself and others.”
On that same day, court documents show, Carroll County Judge Betty Cason did issue an order — but it wasn’t an order to involuntarily commit.
Instead, it was one step below that: An "order to apprehend." That order would have allowed Houser to be evaluated by doctors for up to five days, plus another three days of observation, according to Probate Judge Marc E. D’Antonio, who was the chief clerk at the time in Muscogee County, where the hospital Houser was taken to is located.
It would have been up to the hospital to petition D’Antonio once evaluation period was up, unless the patient was willing to stay voluntarily.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says no follow-up petition to involuntarily commit Houser was ever filed — and no judge ever signed one.
That’s why the situation never rose to the level where it was required to be reported to the FBI’s database, which would have later prevented Houser from buying a gun.
D’Antonio told NBC News that if Houser had been ruled in need of involuntary treatment, he would have reported that to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who would then send it to the FBI.
“That never happened,” he said.
Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have told NBC News that the gun Houser used in the shooting was purchased legally last year in Alabama.
Still, some mental health advocates say the confusion over the reporting requirements in different states suggest that changes are necessary.
"This is a system where there is a different definition for who is going to be involuntarily committed in every single state," said John Snook, the executive director for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia. "It's really a hodgepodge system that tries to catch a tragedy that we simply should be addressing on the front end rather than figuring something out on the back end."
Meanwhile, family and friends on Monday gathered to remember the two women killed in the shooting, Mayci Marie Breaux and Jillian Johnson.
The Daily Advertiser reported that about 500 people thronged a funeral service Monday for Breaux at the Church of the Assumption in Franklin. The Advocate newspaper reported that 250 people attended her service.