Police were told Maine gunman had threatened to carry out shooting spree
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Chelsia Rose Marcius
The Army Reserve and a Maine sheriff’s department were aware of a reservist’s deteriorating mental health more than five months before he killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, according to records released on Monday. Just six weeks ago, the records show, he had grown increasingly paranoid, punched a friend and said he was going to carry out a shooting spree.
But there is no indication in the documents that any law enforcement officials ever made contact with the reservist, Robert R. Card II, 40, who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in America this year and set off a two-day search before he was found dead.
The warnings about Card were far more explicit than Maine officials had publicly acknowledged in the days since the shooting on Oct. 25. They came from Card’s family members — who believed he was hearing voices — and his Army Reserve unit in Saco, Maine, and were investigated by the Sheriff’s Office in Sagadahoc County, where Card lived.
Card’s family told a sheriff’s deputy in May that Card had become angry and paranoid starting early this year. In particular, he had begun to claim — wrongly, the family said — that people were accusing him of being a pedophile.
When the deputy, Chad Carleton, reached out to Card’s base in Saco, he learned that people there already had “considerable concern” for Card’s mental health, according to a report that the deputy wrote.
Two months later, in July, Card was treated at a psychiatric hospital in New York for two weeks, according to a later report, after an incident at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. He had accused “several other soldiers” of calling him a pedophile, shoved one and made veiled threats that he would “take care” of things, the report said.
He made far more explicit threats in mid-September, telling a friend that he had guns and was “going to shoot up the drill center at Saco and other places,” according to a Sheriff’s Office report from that month.
In response to that episode, the Army Reserve contacted the Sheriff’s Office, which assigned a sergeant, Aaron Skolfield, to check on Card at his home in Bowdoin, Maine.
Skolfield went to Card’s home on Sept. 16 and tried to make contact with him, but no one came to the door, despite the sergeant hearing someone he thought might be Card moving around inside.
The sergeant said in his report that soon after, he spoke with Card’s commanding officer, Capt. Jeremy Reamy, who said that he thought it was best for Card to “have time to himself for a bit.” Reamy also said that the Reserve was working to get Card to retire and receive mental health treatment. He declined to comment on Monday.
The Army Reserve said in a statement that it had reached out to the Sheriff’s Office regarding Card “out of an abundance of caution after the unit became concerned for his safety.”
Skolfield said he had also contacted Card’s brother, Ryan Card, who said that he and his father would try to take his brother’s guns away. The sergeant said he had urged Ryan Card to contact the sheriff’s department if he felt that his brother needed “an evaluation.” Ryan Card did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sheriff Joel Merry of Sagadahoc County said in a statement that he believed his deputies had acted appropriately, but he added that his department would evaluate its procedures for wellness checks.
Skolfield declined to comment over the weekend when a reporter contacted him by phone.
Earlier on Monday, Gov. Janet Mills declined to answer questions about law enforcement’s prior interactions with Robert Card. The state’s public safety commissioner, Michael J. Sauschuck, mentioned only a drunken driving incident in 2007 when asked on Saturday about previous contact with law enforcement.
The record of Card’s previous run-ins with reservists and warnings to the sheriff’s department are the latest to raise questions about whether more could have been done to prevent the Maine shooting or keep Card from buying guns.
The reports do not make clear whether Card was committed to the hospital in July involuntarily, but if he had been, he may have been barred from possessing guns. One report describes Card’s Reserve colleagues hearing him complain about the unit commanders having him committed and saying they are “the reason he can’t buy guns anymore.”
Federal officials have said that Card legally bought some guns just days before the shooting. The FBI said there was nothing to prevent him from legally purchasing weapons.
Despite Card’s behavior, the Sheriff’s Office did not try to use Maine’s “yellow flag” law, which allows the police to take away people’s guns after having them evaluated by a medical practitioner, and with a judge’s approval.
Card began his rampage at a bowling alley last Wednesday evening, where he killed seven people. He then drove to a bar and opened fire again, shooting people who were playing pool and several deaf friends competing in games of cornhole. Eight people died at the bar, and three more at the hospital.
Thirteen more people were wounded between the two scenes. Card fled and was found dead two days later, having shot himself in a trailer at a recycling plant where he used to work.
In May, Carleton, the sheriff’s deputy, met with Card’s former wife and 18-year-old son at a high school where they had raised concerns with a police officer assigned to the school. Card’s son relayed that his father had recently grown very angry with him and accused him of talking behind his back.
The son and his mother told the deputy that they were worried about Card’s deteriorating mental health and rising paranoia. Card’s former wife told the deputy that he had recently collected 10 to 15 handguns and rifles from his brother’s home and brought them back to his own house.
That night, Card’s ex-wife visited him with his sister, Nicole, and later reported that he had opened the door with a gun and complained that there were people outside his home, casing it. But she told the deputy the next day that Card had also agreed to see a doctor about his paranoia and hearing voices. It is unclear whether he did so.
Carleton wrote that Card’s brother said his paranoia had started around the time that Card got hearing aids, earlier this year. Card’s sister-in-law told The New York Times last week that he had gotten them because his hearing had deteriorated after two decades in the Reserve.
When the sheriff’s department was contacted by the Reserve in September, Skolfield wrote that he was assured by Card’s brother that he would work with their father to make sure Card did not have any access to guns.
“They have a way to secure his weapons,” the sergeant wrote in the last line of his report.