LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Police missed two clear opportunities to end a dragnet that locked down and terrified Maine’s second-largest city after a gunman killed 18 people at a bowling alley and a bar following a recent spiral into paranoia.
The body of Robert Card was found Friday in a trailer at a recycling center in Lisbon Falls that police had searched a day earlier. Card died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, but it was unclear when, authorities said.
The 40-year-old was suspected of also injuring 13 people during the shooting rampage on Wednesday night in Lewiston.
Lisbon Police Chief Ryan McGee said law enforcement scoured the Maine Recycling Corp. property, where Card once worked, and cleared it on Thursday, but did not check another part of the company’s land nearby. Officers came back early Friday morning and again found nothing.
Another team returned that evening and searched the other part of the property that had not been checked, and found Card’s body in the trailer along with two firearms, McGee said. A rifle had been found Wednesday night in Card’s abandoned car nearby.
Authorities recovered a multitude of weapons during their search for Card and believe he had legally purchased his guns, including those recovered in his car and near his body, said Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Boston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He declined to provide specific details about the guns, including their make and model, and wouldn’t say exactly how many were found.
Investigators are still searching for a motive for the massacre, but have increasingly been focused on Card’s mental health history. State Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said Card was hearing voices and had paranoia, adding that he believed “people were talking about him and there may even have been some voices at play.”
Last summer Card underwent a mental health evaluation after he began acting erratically at an Army training facility in New York, officials said. A bulletin sent to police shortly after this week’s 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.
At a news conference Saturday, Sauschuck said there was no evidence that Card had ever been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, which could’ve made it illegal for him to posses guns. A simple evaluation or voluntary commitment would not have triggered such a prohibition, he said.
Under Maine’s yellow flag law, law enforcement can detain someone they suspect is mentally ill and poses a threat to themselves or others. The law differs from red flag laws in that it requires police first to get a medical practitioner to evaluate the person and find them to be a threat before police can petition a judge to order the seizure of the person’s firearms.
“Just because there appears to be a mental health nexus to this scenario, the vast majority of people with mental health diagnosis will never hurt anybody,” Sauschuck said.
Police found a note in Card’s home addressed to a loved one with the passcode to his phone and bank account number, Sauschuck said. The commissioner said he wouldn’t describe it as an explicit suicide note but the tone indicated that was the intent.
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 law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the investigation.
Street life returned to Lewiston on Saturday after a dayslong lockdown in the city of 37,000. Joggers took advantage of the warm weather. People walked dogs through downtown, picked up coffee and visited other shops that had been closed since the shooting.
“Right now, we want Maine to be remembered as the community that came together after this tragic event,” McGee said, recalling how he drove into town Saturday and saw ”people walking the streets, people sitting on porches, waving. Giving the thumbs-up.”
For many residents it was a day to reflect, mourn and, for some, take the first tentative steps toward normalcy. Some went hunting on the opening day of firearm season for deer, and one family handed out buckets of flowers in downtown. Others gathered at a makeshift memorial to the victims down the street from the bar targeted by Card.
William Brackett, whose namesake son was among those killed, visited the memorial Saturday and said he could feel pent up tension leave his body when he learned Card was dead.
“I’m telling you, if I had a bottle of champagne, I would’ve popped it and celebrated,” he said.
Billy Brackett was shot multiple times and died on the way to the hospital, his father said. He said his son didn’t let his deafness stop him from doing anything in life, including playing multiple sports.
“He was just a gentle person. He was big and rugged, and I guess maybe that’s why all the little kids loved him. They swarmed to a bigger person,” Brackett said. “Maybe they thought, ‘He’ll be our protector.’”
The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston said parishioners had been sharing stories about people killed in the shootings and also looking to help each other in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“To see people hurt — that’s always hard for me. I can’t fix this. As much as I want to, I can’t fix this,” Greenleaf said. “Together we can pray, and I hope it at least alleviates some of the heaviness that our own parishioners feel.”
In Lisbon Falls, not far from where Card’s body was found, about 150 people gathered for an evening vigil at a grassy field. They lit candles, and a volunteer group walked trauma therapy dogs around.
Ben Nitschke and Daniel Fuss, a married couple originally from Australia, drove up from their home in Portland to attend. They said Maine has been incredibly welcoming since they arrived in 2019 and they wanted to be with their adopted community as it mourns.
“This is the first time we ever experienced something like this,” said Nitschke, 32. “We just wanted to come pay our respects.”
Jonathan Jones, pastor of Lisbon Falls Baptist Church, read a prayer and thanked police. He then recited the first names of the 18 people killed in the shooting.
“We’ll rise from these ashes by the grace and mercy of god,” he said.
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.
Three patients remained in critical condition at Central Maine Medical Center, and a fourth was stable, hospital officials said. Another patient was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the rest were discharged.
A stay-at-home order in place during the massive search was lifted Friday afternoon, hours before authorities announced they had found Card’s body at the Maine Recycling Corp.
The company said Card was a commercial driver for approximately one year and left his job voluntarily late last spring.
The Cards have lived in Bowdoin for generations, according to neighbors, 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.
Sauschuck praised the family for calling investigators to provide his name soon after police released surveillance pictures of the shooter.
“This family has been incredibly cooperative with us,” Sauschuck said. “Truth be told, the first three people that called us … were family members.”
The Lewiston shootings were the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to a database maintained by AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press journalists Robert Bukaty in Lewiston, Michael Balsamo in New York and Michael Casey in Boston contributed.