By Richard Valdmanis and Gabriella Borter
LEWISTON, Maine (Reuters) -Police on Thursday searched the woods, waterways and towns of Maine for a U.S. Army reservist wanted in connection with the mass shootings that killed 18 people and wounded 13 more the previous night at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston.
The town of Lewiston, a former textile hub of 38,000 people, and neighboring communities largely shut down to enable hundreds of officers to expand their manhunt with an arrest warrant for Robert R. Card. Card, 40, is a sergeant at a nearby U.S. Army Reserve base who law enforcement officials said had been temporarily committed to a mental health facility over the summer.
Police circulated photographs of a bearded man in a brown hooded sweatshirt and jeans at one of the crime scenes armed with what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle. Hundreds of officers from an array of agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard joined the search, and neighboring Canada said its border officers were on alert.
There was an eerie quiet in the normally bustling city on the banks of the Androscoggin River, with almost no cars on the roads, just a few people outside, and many downtown businesses closed. Rifle-toting security agents in bulletproof vests guarded the hospital where many of the shooting victims were taken.
Card’s trail led to Lisbon, about 7 miles (11 km) to the southeast, where Maine State Police found a white SUV they believe Card used to get away and parked at a boat launch on the river. Public records showed he has three watercraft registrations: two Sea-Doos and a Bayliner.
Card is a petroleum supply specialist at the Army Reserve base in Saco, Maine, who had never been deployed in combat since enlisting in 2002, the U.S. Army said.
A Maine law enforcement bulletin described Card as a trained firearms instructor who recently said he had been hearing voices and had other mental health issues.
He threatened to shoot up the National Guard base in Saco and was “reported to have been committed to mental health facility for two weeks during summer 2023 and subsequently released,” according to the bulletin from the Maine Information & Analysis Center, a unit of the state police. Reuters could not confirm the details reported in the bulletin.
A PRESIDENT MOURNS
President Joe Biden, echoing other officials, said in a statement that he mourned “yet another senseless and tragic mass shooting” in a nation where deadly gun violence is commonplace. He again urged Congress to pass a ban on high-capacity magazines and other gun regulations.
Guns are lightly regulated in Maine, where about half of all adults live in a household with a gun, according to a 2020 study by RAND Corporation. Maine does not require a permit to buy or carry a gun, and it does not have so-called “red flag” laws seen in some other states that allow law enforcement to temporarily disarm people deemed to be dangerous.
U.S. Representative Jared Golden, a Democrat from Lewiston, told reporters he has reversed his opposition to an assault weapons ban as a result of the tragedy.
“I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles, like the one used by the perpetrator of this mass killing my hometown,” Golden told a news conference.
But Congress has been mostly unable to pass gun control, even after previous tragedies such as the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six adults were gunned down.
Rick Goddard, 44, who lives across the street from Card’s father’s farm in Bowdoin, said Card was a gun enthusiast who otherwise kept a low profile. The last time he saw Card he was helping his father cut hay on their farm.
“I know that last year, when he shot a deer down here, he had a $2,000 thermal scope on his rifle. I mean, that’s avid as far as I’m concerned,” Goddard said.
No one answered the door at the farmhouse.
The attacks began shortly before 7 p.m. at the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley, where one female patron and six males were shot dead, police said, without giving the victims’ ages. Within about 10 minutes, they received reports of a shooting at Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant, about three miles (5 km) away, where eight males were shot dead.
Three victims who were taken to hospital later died of their injuries.
All but one of the patients were taken to Central Maine Medical Center, where the emergency room was overflowing with wounded and bleeding patients. Eight patients remained there as of Thursday evening, three of them in critical condition, hospital President Steven Littleson told reporters.
The 18 fatalities are close to the annual number of homicides that normally occur in Maine, which has fluctuated between 16 and 29 since 2012, according to Maine State Police.
The number of U.S. shootings in which four or more people are shot is projected to reach 679 in 2023, up from 647 in 2022, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
(Reporting by Rich Valdmanis and Gabriella Borter in Lewiston, Maine; Additional reporting by Nick Pfosi in Lewiston and Lisbon, Maine, and Ismail Shakil, Steve Gorman, Trevor Hunnicutt, Phil Stewart, Rich McKay, Susan Heavey, Daniel Trotta, Julia Harte and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Mark Porter, Giles Elgood, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)