Maine gunman made threats against his Army base last month, sheriff says
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Chelsia Rose Marcius
A sheriff in Maine says he sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in the state last month after learning that an Army reservist had made threats against his base, a notification that came weeks before the reservist fatally shot 18 people in America’s deadliest mass shooting this year.
Sheriff Joel Merry of Sagadahoc County said he sent the alert sometime in September in an effort to find the reservist, Robert R. Card II, 40, who was said to have made threats regarding the Army Reserve center in Saco, Maine. He said he sent a deputy to Card’s home but that the deputy did not find him there, prompting the sheriff to send out the notice.
The revelation is the strongest sign yet that law enforcement was aware that Card was a potential danger before he carried out a rampage at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston on Wednesday night.
“The guys, from what I know, paid due diligence to this and did attempt to locate Card and they couldn’t,” Merry said in an interview Saturday night.
The Maine Department of Public Safety, which had led a two-day search for Card before he was found dead in a trailer at a recycling plant Friday night, did not respond to requests for comment. The Associated Press first reported on the sheriff’s alert.
Merry declined to comment in detail about the reported threats, and it was unclear whether any other departments that received the sheriff’s alert had tried to locate Card. It was not immediately clear how often such alerts are issued; two law enforcement leaders in Maine said on Saturday that they receive many and did not recall receiving the alert about Card.
The Army’s public affairs office in the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday night. Card enlisted in the Reserve in 2002 and was trained as a petroleum supply specialist, whose work involved shipping and storing fuel; he did not serve on any combat deployments.
Earlier Saturday, the commissioner of the state’s public safety department said that Card had been paranoid and may have been hearing voices. The commissioner, Michael Sauschuck, suggested that Card had most likely been to the bowling alley and bar before, and may have carried out the attack in part because he falsely believed that “people were talking about him.”
“There’s paranoia, there’s some conspiracy theorist piece,” Sauschuck said.
During a recent visit to a National Guard training facility outside Peekskill, New York, Card had a run-in with officials and was later evaluated at a mental health facility, according to a senior law enforcement official. Sauschuck said he had no information to suggest that Card had ever been forcibly committed for mental health treatment.
Card had legally purchased several guns, including some days before the attack, according to Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ field division in Boston.
In Maine, officers must seek a medical professional’s opinion in order to take weapons away from people who are suffering mental difficulties and are considered a danger to themselves or others. That’s more stringent than some states with so-called red flag laws that allow police or the public to petition for the temporary removal of a person’s guns.
Following the shootings, Card fled toward the Androscoggin River, police said, abandoning his car about a 15-minute drive from the bar that he had just attacked. A manhunt followed, with the state issuing a shelter-in-place order affecting thousands of residents.
During that time, police twice searched a recycling plant where Card had previously worked, near where he abandoned his car. But they did not realize that a dirt lot across the street that held dozens of trailers was part of the property. Police said when they searched the trailers, they found him inside one, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In addition to the 18 people killed, 13 were wounded. Three remain in critical condition.