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The leak of a police bulletin complicated the response to Maine mass shooting, official testifies

By DAVID SHARP and PATRICK WHITTLE, DAVID SHARP and PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press
Published: May 24, 2024, 9:43am
2 Photos
FILE - Law enforcement officers stand near armored and tactical vehicles in Bowdoin, Maine, following a mass shooting, Oct. 26, 2023. An independent commission investigating the deadliest shooting in Maine history plans to hear more testimony from law enforcement sources on communications and coordination problems.
FILE - Law enforcement officers stand near armored and tactical vehicles in Bowdoin, Maine, following a mass shooting, Oct. 26, 2023. An independent commission investigating the deadliest shooting in Maine history plans to hear more testimony from law enforcement sources on communications and coordination problems. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File) Photo Gallery

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — A bulletin about the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history that was sent to police agencies had been leaked on social media early on, complicating an already difficult search for the shooter, the state’s top law enforcement official said Friday.

Police are not trying to find the leaker, State Police Col. William Ross said, calling it a “needle in a haystack.” However, Ross said, the leak of the bulletin made the police response more difficult at a time when there was already “just a flurry of activity” in Lewiston, where 18 people were killed in October at a bowling alley and a bar.

Ross said the combination of multiple scenes, the gunman’s disappearance and the manhunt made the tragedy different from other mass shootings around the country.

“This is something that I think is very unique,” Ross said.

Ross made the comments while addressing a special commission investigating the police response to the Oct. 25 mass shooting. Problems with police communication and coordination in the fraught hours after Maine’s deadliest mass shooting were under scrutiny Friday from the state-appointed independent commission, which heard testimony from law enforcement sources.

Eighteen people were killed and 13 injured by an Army reservist at a bowling alley and a bar. The shooter, Robert Card, fled the scene in a vehicle that was abandoned in a nearby town.

Well-meaning officers created chaos by showing up without being asked, and officers who are believed to have arrived intoxicated in a tactical vehicle are among the “disturbing allegations” that have come before the commission, Chair Daniel Wathen said last week.

Those details were outlined in an after-action report by police in Portland, which is about a 45-minute drive south of Lewiston. Wathen said some material in the report was outside the scope of the commission’s work and best handled by police supervisors.

The commission previously heard testimony from law enforcement officials about the evening of Oct. 25, when law enforcement agencies mobilized for a search as additional police officers poured into the region. State police took over coordination of the search for the gunman, who was found dead from suicide two days later.

Some of the tense moments came when law enforcement located the gunman’s vehicle several hours after the shooting.

State police used a cautious approach, angering some officers who wanted to immediately search the nearby woods. Officers without any official assignment began showing up, raising concerns of police firing on one another in the darkness. The arrival of so many officers also contaminated the scene, making it all but impossible to use dogs to track the gunman.

At one point, a tactical vehicle from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office nearly crashed into another tactical vehicle from the Portland Police Department near that scene. A Portland police after-action report suggested the occupants of the Cumberland County vehicle had been drinking, but the sheriff denied that his deputies were intoxicated.

Representatives of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office and Portland Police Department said they weren’t sending officers to testify Friday.

The commission that took testimony Friday was appointed by the governor and is composed of seven members including mental health professionals and former prosecutors and judges. Wathen is a former Maine chief justice.

Former meetings of the panel, which is expected to issue a final report in summer, have focused on victims, Army personnel and members of Card’s family. Card’s relatives said during a hearing last week that they struggled to get help for him as his mental health declined and his behavior became more erratic. At another hearing, a fellow reservist detailed his attempts to flag Card’s decline for their superiors.

An interim report issued by the panel in March said law enforcement should have seized Card’s guns and put him in protective custody before he committed the shooting.

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