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Documents show Lewiston mass shooting suspect had been on law enforcement's radar for months

A car drives by flowers and signs honoring the victims of the Lewiston mass shooting in front of Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant in Lewiston, Maine on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)
Raquel C. Zaldívar
New England News Collaborative
A car drives by flowers and signs honoring the victims of the Lewiston mass shooting in front of Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant in Lewiston, Maine on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (Raquel C. Zaldívar/New England News Collaborative)

Law enforcement in Maine received multiple reports in recent months of the Lewiston shooter’s paranoia and deteriorating mental health, including concerns that he might “snap and commit a mass shooting.”

Documents released Monday show that police made several attempts but never contacted Robert R. Card II before last Wednesday’s mass shooting. The documents also show that members of Card’s family and Army unit leaders said they planned to remove guns from his home and attempt to get him into treatment.

The 40-year-old Bowdoin resident killed 18 people and injured another 13 at a Lewiston bowling alley and a bar last Wednesday using a high-powered rifle. He was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound two days later, ending a massive manhunt that had locked down part of the state.

In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in Maine history, many people are asking what law enforcement knew about Card — an Army reservist described as a skilled marksman — and whether anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy.

There are also questions about why police did not apparently attempt to use Maine’s “yellow flag” law, which allows them to take potential dangerous people into “protective custody” and seek a court order to temporarily confiscate their firearms.

On Monday evening, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry released several police documents detailing his department’s interactions with Card’s family members as well as members of his Army Reserve unit.

First contact in May

The first contact happened in early May, when family members told a sheriff’s deputy that Card was “likely hearing voices or starting to experience paranoia.” The family members also said Card, who was apparently a skilled marksman, had “recently picked up 10-15 handguns/rifles” from another family member’s house.

The officer also spoke with leaders of Card’s Army Reserve unit, the 3rd Battalion of the 304th Infantry Regiment based in Saco, whose members had also witnessed concerning behavior. It was unclear what, if any action, was taken at that time, however.

Two months later, Card was hospitalized for two weeks for a medical evaluation in New York after he exhibited paranoia, accusing people of calling him a pedophile, according to text or email exchanges including in another sheriff’s deputy’s report. Card was eventually released and returned to Maine.

Concern he was ‘going to snap’

Then in mid-September, Card’s Army unit asked the Sagadahoc County sheriff’s office to conduct a “welfare check” on Card because he was “making threats to shoot up” the Saco facility. In another instance detailed in the report, Card apparently punched a friend and fellow Reserve member after he urged Card to “knock it off because he was going to get into trouble talking about shooting up places and people.”

The friend “is concerned that Card is going to snap and commit a mass shooting,” reads the report.

In response, a Sagadahoc County deputy made two attempts to contact Card at his home in Bowdoin — on Sept. 15 and 16. On the second occasion, the officer requested assistance from a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy after finding Card’s vehicle parked outside.

“Card could be heard moving around inside the trailer but would not answer the door,” reads the report. “Due to being in a very disadvantageous position we decided to back away.”

The next day, the deputy spoke with a leader of the Saco Reserve unit as well as Card’s brother.

The Reserve leader said Card sometimes locked himself away but “after he keeps to himself for a while he will come back out” and that “he thought it was best to let Card have time to himself for a bit.”

Card’s brother Ryan Card also said he would work with their father to remove guns from the house.

“I expressed to Ryan that it was our intention to make sure Robert does not do anything to hurt himself or others,” reads the report. “If and when Ryan does communicate with his brother to make his own judgement as to whether Robert needs an evaluation. If he thought that Robert did to call us back and we would work with him to help facilitate that.”

‘Armed and dangerous’ alert

After failing to locate Card on Sept. 15, Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office dispatched an “attempt to locate” message to law enforcement agencies around the state. Those notices, referred to as a “File 6 alert,” are a tool used routinely by law enforcement.

But the Sept. 15 alert described Card as “known to be armed and dangerous” and who had made threats to “shoot up” the Army facility in Saco. It urged officers to “use extreme caution, check mental health wellbeing and advise” the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office.

Saco Police Chief Jack Clements told Maine Public on Friday that his department stepped up patrols near the Army facility in response to that alert. But Card never showed up, so Clements said they had no way to invoke the “yellow flag” procedure.

"So if an agency comes in contact with a person that meets that criteria, that agency is the one that initiates it," Clements said. "We never came in contact with him so we would have no ability to initiate something when we had no contact with him."

In a statement, Sheriff Merry wrote on Monday that “We believe that our agency acted appropriately and followed procedures for conducting an attempt to locate and wellness check.”

“My office will evaluate our policies and procedures for how we conduct wellness checks with the goal of making any improvements that are in the interest of public safety while balancing the rights of individuals,” Merry said.

Mills declines comment

Gov. Janet Mills declined to answer questions about the investigation or how law enforcement responded to growing concerns about Card during a press conference held before Merry released the documents. Mills, who is a former attorney general and prosecutor, said there were legitimate questions being raised but that investigation was ongoing.

An Army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ruth Castro, confirmed that Card’s unit had requested a “health and welfare check” for him “out of an abundance of caution after becoming concerned for his safety.” Castro declined to provide additional information, however.

“The Army takes all allegations seriously,” Castro said. “Due to an ongoing Army investigation, we cannot go into any further details.”

The Army has previously said that Card was a sergeant 1st class working as a “petroleum supply specialist” with the Saco unit. Despite statements to the contrary in police reports, the Army said the agency “did not train SFC Card as a firearms instructor, nor did he serve in that capacity for the Army.”

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