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Emotional witness implores politicians to drop partisanship to address shootings

By PATRICK WHITTLE and DAVID SHARP, Associated Press
Published: March 4, 2024, 9:19am
2 Photos
FILE -  Recent snowfall coats crosses at one of several memorials for the victims of last month&rsquo;s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023.  An independent commission investigating the worst mass shooting in Maine&rsquo;s history is about to hear from more family members of the victims of the tragedy. More victims are set to speak Monday, March 4, 2024, at the hearing in Lewiston. (AP Photo/Robert F.
FILE - Recent snowfall coats crosses at one of several memorials for the victims of last month’s mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. An independent commission investigating the worst mass shooting in Maine’s history is about to hear from more family members of the victims of the tragedy. More victims are set to speak Monday, March 4, 2024, at the hearing in Lewiston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File) Photo Gallery

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — An emotional mother described freezing when she heard gunfire and then becoming separated from her daughter — not knowing whether she was dead or alive — during the deadliest shooting in Maine history.

Tammy Asselin also had a message for lawmakers dealing with legislation in the aftermath, telling them to “put down your partisan lines and try to approach this like a parent would with simple common sense.”

“Enough is enough. It truly angers me to know that we were so close to preventing this but we failed,” she said Monday, echoing the concerns of other survivors and family members who testified.

Police were aware that the gunman, Army reservist Robert Card, was suffering from deteriorating mental health ahead of the the Oct. 25 shootings that killed 18 people in a bowling alley and a bar and restaurant in Lewiston.

An independent commission, established by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, is reviewing the facts surrounding shootings, including the police response, and the hearing on Monday took place in the city where the shootings took place.

The victims and family members on Monday shared some of the concerns of others who spoke at a previous hearing last month, expressing concerns that authorities had a chance to remove guns from Card before the rampage and did not.

Asselin’s 11-year-old daughter Toni joined her briefly in front of the commission members. “I thought it was important for me to provide the face of a child who was there that evening,” she told the commissioners.

Mike Roderick, who was playing cornhole with his 18-year-old son when gunfire erupted, described the horror of being separated from his son, and his decision to turn off the lights at Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant when he found himself hiding in a utility closet. Both of them survived and officials credited the cutting of the lights for saving lives.

“My only hope is that we can prevent others from having to suffer the nightmares and trauma that will plague us for the rest of our lives. Hopefully this commission can figure who and where we dropped the ball and make sure that we learn from these horrible tragic mistakes, and share that information to teach others how to prevent this nightmare from ever happening again,” Roderick said.

The meeting was held in the city where the shootings took place.

Victims described a fun evening of cornhole or bowling before hearing loud pops. They described freezing, or fleeing. Some of them described crawling on the floor to escape. One described being shot in the arm, saying it felt like an “explosion.”

Tom Hatfield said someone who was bowling in his lane, Tricia Asselin, who was a cousin of Tammy Asselin, was shot to death. He said his girlfriend tried to hide under a table but he grabbed her, and they ran out a back door and escaped injury.

He said he thought he was OK but realized he wasn’t.

“I’m not good. I’m good at putting on a mask, and making people think I’m fine,” he said, adding that a resiliency center for victims was helpful.

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The commission is expected to produce a comprehensive report about the shootings. The purpose of Monday’s meeting is “to hear from victims and others impacted by the shootings,” said Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for the commission.

Relatives of the 40-year-old Card, of Bowdoin, warned police that he was displaying paranoid behavior and they were concerned about his access to guns. He was hospitalized for two weeks in July after he shoved a fellow reservist and locked himself in a motel room during training. Then, in September, a fellow reservist told an Army superior he was concerned Card was going to “snap and do a mass shooting.”

The commission is scheduled to hold another hearing on Thursday in Augusta to hear from members of the U.S. Army Reserves. The hearing with Army officials will be the seventh held by the commission and is the final hearing currently scheduled.

In previous hearings, law enforcement officials have defended the approach they took with Card in the months before the shootings. Members of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office testified that the state’s yellow flag law makes it difficult to remove guns from a potentially dangerous person.

Democrats in Maine are looking to make changes to the state’s gun laws in the wake of the shootings. Mills wants to change state law to allow law enforcement to seek a protective custody warrant to take a dangerous person into custody to remove weapons.

Other Democrats in Maine have proposed a 72-hour waiting period for most gun purchases. The proposals will likely give rise to a robust debate in Maine, where gun ownership is higher than most of the Northeast.

Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.

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