June 22nd, 2024

A suspect in the fatal shooting of 18 in Maine is still at large. Residents are sheltering in place

By David Sharp, The Associated Press on October 26, 2023.

In this image taken from video released by the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office, an unidentified shooter points a gun while entering Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston, Maine, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Maine State Police ordered residents in the state's second-largest city to shelter in place Wednesday night as the suspect remains at large. (Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office via AP)

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) – Authorities carried out a massive search Thursday for a U.S. Army reservist who they say killed 18 people and wounded 13 at a bowling alley and a bar in a mass shooting that sent panicked patrons scrambling under tables and behind bowling pins and gripped the entire state of Maine in fear.

Schools, doctor’s offices and grocery stores closed and people stayed behind locked door in cities as far away as 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the scenes of Wednesday night’s shootings in Lewiston.

President Joe Biden ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff as condolences poured in from around the nation, including from Maine native and author Stephen King, who called it “madness.” The attacks stunned a state of only 1.3 million people that has one of the country’s lowest homicide rates: just 29 killings in all of 2022.

The shooting suspect, Robert Card, is considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached, authorities said at a news conference. Card underwent a mental health evaluation in mid-July after he began acting erratically during training, a military official told The Associated Press.

Police said they have had no reported sightings of Card since the shootings at Schemengees Bar and Grille and at Sparetime Recreation, a bowling alley about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) away. The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office released two photos of the suspect walking into the bowling alley with his rifle raised to his shoulder.

A telephone number listed for Card in public records was not in service.

Eight murder warrants were issued for Card, 40, after authorities identified eight of the victims, police said. Ten more will likely be issued once the names of the rest of the dead are confirmed, said Maine State Police Col. William Ross.

Officials with Central Maine Medical Center said three of the injured people were in critical condition and five were hospitalized but stable.

The attack started at Sparetime, where a children’s bowling league was taking place, about 7 p.m. Wednesday. One bowler, who identified himself only as Brandon, said he heard about 10 shots, thinking the first was a balloon popping.

“I had my back turned to the door. And as soon as I turned and saw it was not a balloon – he was holding a weapon – I just booked it,” he told the AP.

Brandon said he scrambled down the length of the alley, sliding into the pin area and climbing up to hide in the machinery.

“I was putting on my bowling shoes when when it started. I’ve been barefoot for five hours,” he said.

Less than 15 minutes later, numerous 911 calls started coming in from Schemengees Bar and Grille, which was offering 25% discounts to customers who work in the bar or restaurant industry.

A bulletin sent to police across the country after the attack said Card had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this past summer after “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.

A military official said Card was training with the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment in West Point, New York, when commanders became concerned him.

State police took Card to the Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point for evaluation, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Immediately after the shooting, police armed with rifles took positions around Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city, with a population of 37,000. The once overwhelmingly white mill community has become one of the most diverse cities in northern New England after a major influx of immigrants, mostly from Somalia, in recent years.

Schools 50 miles (80 kilometers) away in Kennebunk closed as the search continued. Maine’s largest city, Portland, closed its public buildings.

In Bates College in Lewiston, students stayed in dorms, blinds closed, said Diana Florence, whose son is a sophomore. She has a daughter who is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was locked down twice last month for a shooting and a man with a gun.

“I could not believe it – that this is happening again. It’s happening to my son after it just happened to my daughter,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

The shootings mark the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.

Maine doesn’t require permits to carry guns, and the state has a longstanding culture of gun ownership that is tied to its traditions of hunting and sport shooting.

Florence, of New York, said she and her son at Bates College spoke and texted late into the night, and that he was shaken up but OK. Meanwhile, she was left angry.

“I think this is about our laws, frankly. That we cannot seem to pass any sort of sensible gun laws or attack mental health in the way we should,” she said. “And our kids are paying the price. And even if they’re not killed or injured, the trauma that is going to linger long past the semester is palpable.”

Author Stephen King responded to the shootings Thursday morning in a pair of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“The shootings occurred less than 50 miles from where I live. I went to high school in Lisbon. It’s the rapid-fire killing machines, people. This is madness in the name of freedom. Stop electing apologists for murder,” he wrote.

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Associated Press journalists Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine; Michael Balsamo in New York; Darlene Superville and Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C.; Michael Casey in Boston; and Holly Ramer and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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