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News / Nation & World

Maine mass-shooting was ‘unique’ because of multiple locations, manhunt, police chief tells panel

By Associated Press
Published: February 15, 2024, 9:39am

AUGUSTA, Maine — In the unfortunate history of U.S. mass shootings, the Lewiston massacre in which 18 people were killed was “extremely unique and extremely challenging” because it involved two separate locations followed by an intense search, Maine state’s police chief told a panel investigating the shooting Thursday.

Col. Bill Ross described some of the difficulties police faced during and after the Oct. 25 attacks on a bar and bowling alley by gunman Robert Card, who was found dead by suicide two days later.

“The weight on our shoulders to find Robert Card was immense and became heavier as each minute passed,” Ross said.

He said that in most other mass shootings, the suspect has died or been captured at the scene.

The panel investigating the deadliest shooting in Maine’s history began hearing from commanders with state police on Thursday morning.

Police have been criticized for not finding Card’s body sooner, after they quickly found his abandoned car and twice unsuccessfully searched the nearby recycling facility where his body was later found on a third search.

Maj. Lucas Hare, who heads Maine State Police operations division, told the panel he delayed initiating a search of the woods around the gunman’s car because he feared officers could be walking into an ambush.

He said the car was left in a place where it could be easily seen and they had been alerted to the possibility that Card, a former Army reservist, had access to a thermal scope, which would have given him night-vision capabilities.

He told officers to wait on a SWAT team.

“I know that was not a popular decision,” Hare said. But, he added, the situation immediately made him “think there was a possibility of an ambush.”

He also described some of the confusion and tension as multiple police agencies descended on the area, including some officers who showed up on their own, and emergency calls flooded in.

Tens of thousands of people were ordered to shelter in their homes as police converged on the sites of the shootings and searched for an Army reservist armed with an assault rifle. Card was quickly identified, and his abandoned vehicle was found in a nearby community, but he wasn’t located until 48 hours after the shooting.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey assembled the independent commission to determine whether anything could have been done under existing law to prevent the tragedy, and whether changes are needed to prevent future mass shooting incidents.

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Both police and the Army were warned that Card was suffering from deteriorating mental heath in the months before the shooting.

In May, relatives warned police that the 40-year-old Card was sinking into paranoia, and they expressed concern about his access to guns. In July, Card was hospitalized for two weeks after shoving a fellow reservist and locking himself in a motel room during training in upstate New York. In August, the Army barred him from handling weapons on duty and declared him nondeployable.

Then in September, a fellow reservist provided a stark warning, telling an Army superior that Card was going to “snap and do a mass shooting.”

Army officials later downplayed the warning, but it prompted local police to go to Card’s home in Bowdoin to check on him. Card didn’t come to the door and the deputy said he didn’t have legal authority under Maine’s yellow card law to knock in the door.

The deputy told the commission that an Army official suggested letting the situation “simmer” rather than forcing a confrontation. The deputy also received assurances from Card’s family that they were removing his access to guns.