June 25th, 2024

Maine embarks on healing and searches for answers a day after mass killing suspect is found dead

By Jake Bleiberg, Patrick Whittle, Holly Ramer And David Sharp, The Associated Press on October 28, 2023.

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) – The city of Lewison, Maine, embarked upon a healing process – and a search for answers – on Saturday, a day after the body was found of a U.S. Army reservist who authorities said opened fire at a bowling alley and a bar and killed 18 people.

Thirteen people were also injured when 40-year-old Robert Card of Bowdoin – a firearms instructor who grew up in the area – was found dead in nearby Lisbon from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills at a Friday night news conference called for the healing process to begin.

“Like many people I’m breathing a sigh of relief tonight knowing that Robert Card is no longer a threat to anyone,” Mills said on Friday night.

Whitney Pelletier hung a hand-drawn “Lewiston Strong” sign in the glass door of her downtown cafe, Forage, on Saturday morning.

Like other local businesses, Forage has been closed for days as police searched for the man who fatally shot 18 people at a bar and a bowling alley in Maine’s second largest city. She said the dead include one of their regular customers and that her boyfriend knew others.

“Last night when they found his body, I think the fear that I had been holding onto just living in downtown Lewiston was replaced with sadness,” she said of the gunman. “Just for the victims and their loved ones and for a community that wakes up today feeling a little less safe.”

April Stevens, a Lewiston resident who knew one of the victims, said she was relieved to learn that the “monster and coward” who inflicted so much pain was no longer a danger.

“I’m relieved but not happy,” she said. “There was too much death. Too many people were hurt. Relieved, yes, happy, no.”

Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck said Card was found at 7:45 p.m. near the Androscoggin River, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) southeast of where the second shooting occurred Wednesday evening. He declined to divulge the location but an official told The Associated Press the body was at a recycling center from which Card had been fired.

The official was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Saturday morning, Whitney Pelletier hung a hand-drawn “Lewiston Strong” sign in the glass door of her downtown cafe, Forage.

Like other local businesses, Forage has been closed for days as police searched for Card. She said the dead included a regular customer and that her boyfriend knew others.

“Last night when they found his body, I think the fear that I had been holding onto just living in downtown Lewiston was replaced with sadness,” said Pelletier, who co-owns the cafe. “Just for the victims and their loved ones and for a community that wakes up today feeling a little less safe.”

President Joe Biden said he was “grateful” that Maine residents no longer had to hide in their homes and in a statement called on Congress to take action on gun violence.

The deadliest shootings in Maine history stunned a state of 1.3 million people that has relatively little violent crime and had only 29 killings in all of 2022. In Lewiston, the 37,000 residents and those in surrounding communities were told to stay in their homes as hundreds of police officers, sheriff’s deputies, FBI agents and other law enforcement officials swarmed the area.

Card was a U.S. Army reservist. Leo Madden, who said he ran Maine Recycling Corp. for decades, told the AP that Card worked there for a couple of years and nothing about him stood out. Madden said he didn’t remember when Card was employed or whether he was fired or quit.

Last summer, Card underwent a mental health evaluation after he began acting erratically during training, a U.S. official told the AP. A bulletin sent to police across the country shortly after the attack said Card had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks after “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.

A U.S. official said Card was training with the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment in West Point, New York, when commanders became concerned about 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 AP on condition of anonymity.

On Wednesday, Card attacked the bowling alley first, then went to the bar. Police were quickly sent to both locations but Card was able to escape. For the next two days authorities scoured the woods and hundreds of acres of Card’s family-owned property, and sent dive teams with sonar to the bottom of the Androscoggin River.

Law enforcement officials had said they hadn’t seen Card since his vehicle was left at a boat ramp Wednesday shortly after the shootings.

Hours before Card’s body was found, the names and pictures of the 15 men, two women and 14-year-old boy who died in the shootings were released at a news conference.

The Maine Department of Public Safety said it would open a Family Assistance Center in Lewiston starting Saturday morning to offer help and support to victims at the Lewiston Armory.

The victims of the shootings include Bob Violette, 76, a retiree who was coaching a youth bowling league and was described as devoted, approachable and kind. Auburn City Councilor Leroy Walker told news outlets that his son, Joe, a manager at the bar and grill, died going after the shooter with a butcher knife. Peyton Brewer-Ross was a dedicated pipefitter at Bath Iron Works whose death leaves a gaping void in the lives of his partner, young daughter and friends, members of his union said.

The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf said the shootings killed at least four members of their community.

Tammy Asselin was in the bowling alley with her 10-year-old daughter, Toni, and was injured when she fell in the scramble as the shooting began. She had said she hoped the shooter would be found alive because she and her daughter had many questions that they hoped he could answer.

On Saturday morning, she told the AP in a text message that her daughter was relieved by the news, and she was able to sleep peacefully.

“I am relieved as well, but also saddened at a lost opportunity to learn as much as we can,” she said. “Now we are on the journey to heal, and I am looking forward to working on this. It will be difficult but I’m optimistic we will be stronger in the long run.”

Pope Francis sent a Saturday telegram to the bishop of Portland, Robert Deeley, saying he was “deeply saddened to learn of the terrible loss of life resulting from the mass shooting.”

Authorities have said publicly that the shooter used at least one rifle. They have not released any other details, including how the suspect obtained the firearm.

Authorities found a suicide note at a home associated with Card on Thursday that was addressed to his son, the law enforcement officials said. They said it didn’t provide any specific motive for the shooting.

The Cards have lived in Bowdoin for generations, neighbors said, and various members of the family own hundreds of acres in the area. The family owned the local sawmill and years ago donated the land for a local church.

Family members of Card told federal investigators that he had recently discussed hearing voices and became more focused on the bowling alley and bar, according to the law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. When he was hospitalized in July in New York, Card had told military officials he had been hearing voices and said he wanted to harm other soldiers, the officials said.

Authorities had banned hunting in several communities, in a state where it is immensely popular. However, following confirmation of Card’s death, a public safety alert was issued that announced: “The search is over for Mr. Card. The caution is over. Hunting may resume.”

The Lewiston shootings were 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.

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Ramer reported from Concord, New Hampshire and Whittle from Portland, Maine. Associated Press journalists Michelle R. Smith, Robert Bukaty and Robert Bumsted in Lewiston; David R. Martin in Bowdoin; Michael Balsamo in New York; Darlene Superville and Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C.; Michael Casey in Boston; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, Nicole Winfield in Rome and Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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