gun violence

The Suspected Maine Shooter Showed Warning Signs Long Before Rampage

Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images

A massive manhunt in Maine came to an end last Friday night, when law-enforcement officers announced that they’d found the suspect in two mass shootings at a recycling center where he’d previously worked, dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Robert R. Card II is believed to have opened fire on a bowling alley, and then a bar, in Lewiston on the night of October 25, killing at least 18 people and injuring 13 others. As details about the suspect continue to emerge, questions linger as to why so many alleged warning signs went unaddressed in the months before the massacre.

In the days after the shootings, the FBI joined state and local police in their search for Card, executing warrants at his family’s properties, flying helicopters over the area, and preparing dive teams to search the Androscoggin River, on which Lewiston is situated. The 40-year-old Bowdoin resident was “considered armed and dangerous” after disappearing in the wake of the attacks, which began at Just-in-Time Recreation during children’s league night. Shortly after 7 p.m., the gunman walked into the bowling alley wielding a military-style rifle. “I heard a really loud bang,” Riley Dumont, whose daughter was bowling when the shots rang out, told local outlet WMTW. Dumont said her father, a retired police officer, corralled her and others into a corner and put tables over them for protection.

“It felt like it lasted forever,” Dumont said of the shooting. Meghan Hutchinson told the outlet that her daughter, Zoey, was grazed by a bullet while the two were running. “We were in the back room,” Hutchinson said. “Another child came in whose arm … was bleeding profusely.” Hutchinson said she and others barricaded themselves in the back room, where another parent with a phone called 911.

Twelve minutes later, authorities began receiving multiple 911 calls about an active shooter at Schemengees Bar & Grille, a short drive from the bowling alley. Maine State Police report that eight people were fatally shot at the bar; seven men were found inside, and one was discovered outside. Additional victims from both shootings were taken to local hospitals. The injured and deceased range in age from 14 to 76, according to the New York Times.

“My heart is crushed. I am at a loss for words,” a Facebook post from Schemengees read on Thursday morning. “In a split second your world gets turned upside down for no good reason. We lost great people in this community. How can we make any sense of this.”

Following the shootings, authorities in Lewiston and nearby towns urged residents to lock their doors and stay inside. The campus of Bates College in Lewiston went on lockdown, and the New York Times reports that classes at Bates, Lewiston public schools, and neighboring districts were canceled on Thursday. The following afternoon, Androscoggin County and northern Sagadahoc County remained under shelter-in-place orders, as local law-enforcement and federal agents continued a multi-pronged search for Card.

In the intervening week, more information has come out about Card, a sergeant in the Army Reserve who never deployed. NBC has reported that the Maine Information and Analysis Center, a database for law enforcement, lists him as a trained firearms instructor. The bulletin says Card recently reported experiencing mental-health issues, including “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” the National Guard Base in Saco, Maine. He was apparently committed to a mental-health facility for two weeks over the summer, and according to the Associated Press, a statewide law enforcement alert about Card went out in September, over “veiled threats” he allegedly made against his fellow reservists. According to a New York Times report, those threats were fairly overt: Card allegedly punched another soldier and talked about his shooting plans convincingly enough that the soldier — apparently a friend of Card’s — texted his superior late that night to say that he believed Card was “messed up in the head.”

“I do not know how to help him, and he refuses to get help or to continue help,” he wrote, per the Times. “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

Saco’s police chief told the AP that they stepped up patrols for two weeks as a result of the alert, but did not locate him; meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office near Bowdoin said he wasn’t at home when deputies conducted welfare checks.

But according to the Times, the September texts were only the most recent in a series of clear warning signs that authorities let slide. The first was reported to law enforcement in May, when Card’s ex-wife and son told a sheriff’s deputy that Card was in possession of at least 10 to 15 firearms and exhibiting angry, paranoid behavior. According to Card’s siblings, who spoke with investigators in the shootings’ aftermath, their brother had become “delusional” a few months prior after a “bad breakup” with a woman he met at Schemengees. Though he sought medical help and was given a prescription, he apparently stopped taking it. According to his siblings, he was specifically concerned about local businesses — including Schemengees and Just-in-Time Recreation — “broadcasting online that he was a pedophile,” per the Times.

After Card’s ex-wife tipped off the Sheriff’s Office, they apparently began liaising with the Army Reserve and Card’s brother, who reportedly told investigators that he’d witnessed Card going on drunken, “angry rants about having to shoot someone.” According to the paper, the Sheriff’s Office then put the onus of responsibility on Card’s family, telling the brother to let them know if Card threatened to hurt himself or others — never mind that he already had.

Meanwhile, according to the Times, the Army Reserve had resolved to “sit down with Robert in the near future and see if they could get him to open up about what has been going on.” Whether or not they even did that, the records the Times reviewed don’t say. But after his stay at the psychiatric hospital over the summer, the Army reportedly deemed Card “non-deployable” and said he should not have access to weapons or activities involving guns.

Officials have not yet named a possible motive in the shootings, but despite his mental-health history, he seems to have purchased his guns legally. In yet another year that has already seen hundreds of mass shootings — over 565 in 2023 so far — the massacre in Lewiston has renewed scrutiny of American gun laws in general and Maine’s gun laws in particular. The state does not require background checks for private gun sales, nor permits to carry concealed weapons. It places no waiting periods on gun purchases and lacks red-flag laws that allow a court to temporarily confiscate the firearms of a person judged to pose a risk to themselves or others. It does have a yellow-flag law in place, obligating a medical professional to weigh in before a person’s guns are taken away. In an unusual twist, Maine representative Jared Golden apologized in the shooting’s aftermath for voting against an assault-rifle ban.

“At a time like this a leader is forced to grapple with things that are far greater than his- or herself,” Golden said. “Humility is called for as accountability is sought.” He added, “The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure, which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing.”

This article has been updated.

The Maine Shooter Allegedly Exhibited Numerous Warning Signs