By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) -Five months before a U.S. Army reservist shot dead 18 people at a bar and bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, his family contacted the local sheriff’s office to say they were concerned about his deteriorating mental health and that he had access to at least 10 guns.
A second report came through in September, when Robert R. Card’s Army Reserve unit in the nearby city of Saco emailed the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office requesting a “wellness check” on Card, Sheriff Joel Merry said in a statement on Monday.
The Reserve unit told the sheriff’s office that Card, a 40-year-old sergeant, had reported “hearing voices” that tormented him with accusations of pedophilia and of having a small penis, and that he had threatened to “shoot up” the Saco drill center and other places, according to an incident report released by the sheriff’s office.
At least one soldier who was friendly with Card told his unit leaders that Card’s behavior was so alarming that he feared “Card was going to snap and commit a mass shooting,” according to the Army Reserve unit’s September email released by the sheriff’s office.
On Oct. 25, Card killed 18 patrons and wounded 13 at two Lewiston venues in the 10th-deadliest mass shooting in a country where gun violence has become common. After a two-day manhunt, police found Card dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a trailer at a recycling plant where he had worked.
The unit contacted the sheriff’s office “out of an abundance of caution after the unit became concerned for his safety,” U.S. Army spokesperson Ruth Castro said in a statement.
The Army told the company commander in August that Card, a unit firearm instructor, should not handle Army guns and declared him “non-deployable due to concerns over his well-being,” the statement said.
As in many U.S. states, guns are lightly regulated in Maine and no permit is required to buy or carry one. In 2022, however, the state passed a so-called “yellow flag law” that allows police to seek a court order allowing them to temporarily seize guns from a person a medical practitioner has deemed may be in danger of hurting themselves or others.
Officers at Card’s Army Reserve unit had him committed to a New York mental health hospital in July for two weeks after he displayed erratic, threatening behavior during a battalion training trip to New York’s Camp Smith military installation.
His ability to carry out a massacre has raised questions about the efficacy of the state’s gun regulations and where the limits lie in a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found a constitutional right for individuals to carry weapons in public.
In the Sagadahoc County sheriff’s account, his office agreed not to make direct contact with Card after his teenaged son and ex-wife reported their concerns on May 3, in which they told a deputy that Card’s anger and paranoia worsened after he got a hearing aid in February.
They said Card had recently picked up 10 to 15 handguns and rifles he had stored at his brother’s house and that they feared his anger if Card learned they had contacted the police, an incident report said.
Instead, a sheriff’s deputy spoke with commanders in Card’s unit, the 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment, in May and connected them with Card’s family. The battalion officials “assured our office that they would ensure that Card received medical attention,” the sheriff’s statement said.
‘TIME TO HIMSELF’
When, months later, the Army Reserve unit reported Card’s threats to carry out a mass shooting, another sheriff’s deputy attempted to visit Card at his trailer home in Bowdoin on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16, but there was no answer, the sheriff’s office said.
The deputy circulated a missing-person notice among Maine law enforcement offices with Card’s physical description and a warning he should be considered armed and dangerous.
After conferring with the Army Reserve unit and Card’s brother, the sheriff’s office made no further attempts to contact Card, and his unit commander told the deputy that Card no longer had any weapons from the reserve unit.
“His commander advised that they were trying to get treatment for Mr. Card and that he thought it best to let Card have time to himself,” the sheriff’s office said.
Card’s brother told the deputy he “would work to secure any firearms that Mr. Card had access to” and that he would call the sheriff’s office back if they were worried about him again.
“We believe that our agency acted appropriately and followed procedures for conducting an attempt to locate and wellness check,” Sheriff Merry’s statement said.
The Army said that, under federal law, Reserve commanders only have authority over non-deployed soldiers when they attend mandated training, and that Card had excused himself from such training in September and October, citing work conflicts.
The sheriff’s office said it canceled the missing-person alert for Card on Oct. 18, a week before the Lewiston massacre.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Robert Birsel and Bill Berkrot)