Authorities in Maine spent Monday piecing together the events that led to the worst mass shooting in the state’s history — with the gunman’s record of interaction with police and warning signs involving mental illness and violent threats emerging as key threads.
Those same authorities are facing growing scrutiny over how the shooter was able to keep his guns and remain on the street despite exhibiting signs that he might commit violent acts.
Robert Card — the gunman who was found dead Friday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound — underwent a mental health evaluation last summer after he began acting erratically at an Army training facility in New York, officials said. A bulletin sent to police shortly after last 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.
Authorities have not said whether they believe Card, 40, planned the Oct. 25 rampage in advance. But nearly three months ago, he tried and failed to acquire a device used to quiet gunshots, according to a gun shop owner in Auburn.
Rick LaChapelle, owner of Coastal Defense Firearms, said Card purchased a suppressor, also called a silencer, online and arranged to pick it up at his shop.
Card already had submitted information to the federal government to purchase it, and federal authorities had approved the sale to that point, he said.
On Aug. 5, when Card filled out the form at LaChapelle’s gun shop to pick up the silencer, he answered “yes” to the question: “Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?”
“As soon as he answered that ‘yes’ we know automatically that this is disqualifying, he’s not getting a silencer today,” LaChapelle said.
Silencers are more heavily regulated under federal law than most firearms. Federal law requires buyers to apply with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and be approved. The typical wait time is between six and eight months, said Mark Collins, federal policy director at the gun-violence prevention group Brady.
After the ATF approves the application, the silencer is sent to a licensed firearm dealer, where the buyer is required to fill out another form required for any firearm purchase. The dealer then has to run a background check.
That form asks questions similar to the paperwork required to buy a gun. In Card’s case, he likely would have completed the original federal paperwork months before he was committed to the mental health facility in July.
LaChapelle said he does not know when Card made the online purchase.
He said Card was polite when notified of the denial, mentioned something about the military and said he would “come right back” after consulting his lawyer.
Investigators are still searching for a motive for the massacre but have increasingly focused on Card’s mental health history.
State Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck has said Card believed “people were talking about him and there may even have been some voices at play.”
Family members of Card told federal investigators that he had recently discussed hearing voices and became more focused on the bowling alley and bar where the shootings took place, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the investigation. Card’s rampage killed 18 and injured 13, shocking both the nation and a community where guns are prevalent, but gun violence is rare.
Police across Maine were alerted just last month to the “veiled threats” by the U.S. Army reservist. Two local law enforcement chiefs told The Associated Press that a statewide awareness alert was sent in mid-September to be on the lookout for Card after he made threats against his base and fellow soldiers. But ultimately, after a visit to Card’s home, police moved on.
The Army directed that Card “should not have a weapon, handle ammunition, and not participate in live fire activity,” according to Lt. Col. Ruth Castro, an Army spokesperson.
Card was also declared “non-deployable due to concerns over his well-being,” and his company commander was notified of the restrictions, Castro said in a written statement, adding that the Army Reserve Command Surgeon Office and medical management made multiple attempts to contact Card.
The Army did not immediately respond to questions about when those contacts were made.
On Monday afternoon, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, held a news conference to provide an update on the response to the shooting. The conference turned contentious quickly when Mills declined to provide information about what the investigation has turned up so far.
Mills said state lawmakers would revisit Maine gun control laws. Proposals for tighter laws have stalled or failed in recent legislative sessions.
“I’m not going to stand here today and tell you I’m proposing X, Y and Z,” she said. “I’m here to listen, work with others and get people around the table as promptly as possible.”
The body of Card was found late Friday in a trailer at a recycling center in Lisbon Falls. Card died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound though it was unclear when, authorities said.
Authorities recovered a multitude of weapons while searching 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 discuss any specifics.
A stay-at-home order in place during the massive search for Card was lifted Friday afternoon, hours before authorities announced they had found Card’s body.
Residents of Lewiston returned to work Monday, the morning after coming together to mourn those lost in Maine’s worst mass shooting.
More than 1,000 people attended the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul for a vigil in Lewiston. Some put their heads in their hands as the names of the people who died in Wednesday’s shooting were read. Others quietly wept.
Hundreds more watched a livestream of the vigil shown on a huge screen in front of the church. Some held American flags and others had lit candles in cups marked with the names of the dead and injured.
Christian leaders along with a rabbi and an imam spoke of the pain from the shooting but also the healing process and the resilience of the community of 40,000. There was also a speaker from Lewiston’s deaf and hard of hearing community, as four of its members were killed in the shooting.
Meanwhile, Lewiston was slowly reopening. Lewiston Public Schools released a limited schedule for the week “with room for reflection as we move forward.” Only the staff was returning Monday; students were due back Tuesday. The Lewiston City Hall planned to reopen Monday afternoon.
The deadliest shootings in Maine’s history stunned a state of 1.3 million people that has relatively little violent crime and only 29 killings in all of 2022.
Three of the injured remained in critical condition at Central Maine Medical Center, and a fourth was stable, hospital officials said. Another was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the rest were discharged.
The Lewiston shootings were the 36th mass killing in the U.S. this year, according to a database maintained by AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. The database includes every mass killing since 2006 from all weapons in which four or more people, excluding the offender, were killed within a 24-hour time frame.