Law enforcement could face these challenges in their hunt for the Lewiston shooting suspect

Oct 27, 2023, 6:40 AM

Robert Card...

The Lewiston Police Department identified Robert Card as a "person of interest" in the shootings. (Lewiston Police Department)

(Lewiston Police Department)

(CNN) Law enforcement agencies have descended upon southern Maine to search for a man accused of killing 18 people in two mass shootings Wednesday, and there are several aspects to his background that could make the effort to find him both challenging and dangerous, experts told CNN.

The search for Robert Card, 40, began after two shootings were reported just 4 miles apart in Lewiston, Maine’s second-largest city, about 40 miles north of Portland. He now faces an arrest warrant for eight counts of murder, a figure that will rise as more victims are identified, officials said.

In the meantime, authorities continue their search. But they could face several challenges as they race to find Card, law enforcement experts said, namely his training as a marksman and US Army reservist, his purported skill as an outdoorsman and the planning he seems to have done prior to his alleged attack.

“This is a person who has military training. They have an elevated level of firearms proficiency, but they also have the knowledge of military tactics, most notably evasion and the strategy on how to go undetected,” said CNN Law Enforcement Analyst Jonathan Wackrow. “All of that going on is challenging to law enforcement.”

His experience with guns and the outdoors

Card’s apparent expertise with firearms presents an added layer of danger to the search and any potential confrontation with law enforcement, according to the experts who spoke with CNN.

Card is a certified firearms instructor, law enforcement officials in Maine told CNN. And while he’s had no deployments, records provided by the Army indicate Card is a petroleum supply specialist in the Army reserve.

The 40-year-old never saw combat, according to Clifford Steeves, who told CNN he knew Card when they served in the Army Reserve together, until about a decade ago. But Card received extensive training, including with firearms, he said, adding Card was a skilled marksman and among the best shooters in their unit.

“His familiarity with weapons makes him a bit more dangerous,” said Rob D’Amico, a retired FBI agent and former member of the bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team.

As an example, he pointed out shootings are sometimes thwarted when a gunman’s weapon malfunctions, allowing a bystander to confront them. But as a firearms instructor, Card would know how to clear such a malfunction, maybe in less than a second, said D’Amico.

Michael Harrison, a former Baltimore police commissioner, similarly nodded to Card’s “ability” to “inflict harm on so many people so fast” Wednesday night, adding he was concerned about the suspect’s “ability to inflict that amount of carnage again if he’s faced with an encounter with law enforcement.”

Card “could position himself to be able to have a violent encounter,” Harrison said. An eventual surrender, suicide or violent encounter with police are all plausible conclusions to the search, he said, and “all of them are very dangerous.”

Steeves also told CNN Card had received navigation training in the Army Reserves, describing him as an “outdoors type of guy” who “would be very comfortable in the woods.”

Much of the search is happening in a wooded area, but searching the woods is something law enforcement in Maine is used to, US Rep. Chellie Pingree told CNN.

“We have excellent law enforcement in Maine,” she said, “and we are used to finding people lost in the woods.”

Indeed, Card may be comfortable in the outdoors simply by virtue of being a resident of Maine, D’Amico said.

“I would say living up in Maine he has more outdoor experience than most people get in their bootcamp experience in the Army,” D’Amico said.

His careful planning

Several law enforcement experts also pointed to what they said was evidence of careful planning by the suspect.

“He’s clearly carefully planned this,” said Juliette Kayyem, CNN’s senior national security analyst. “He’s survived close to 14 hours, or however long, without getting caught.”

That was echoed by Wackrow, the CNN law enforcement analyst, who said the fact that Card was able to flee after allegedly carrying out two shootings at two locations “shows that there is a more sophisticated level of planning that went into this attack and, more importantly, how this suspect is evading police.”

This planning could be illustrated by the location where his car was found. In the hours after the shooting, police released an image of an SUV they said belonged to Card, who was then being referred to as a “person of interest.”

Just before 10 p.m., investigators located the vehicle, a white Subaru, at the Pejepscot Boat Launch in Lisbon, about 8 miles southeast of Lewiston, raising the possibility that he absconded on the water.

“The question is, does he have a boat there? Or is he aware of a boat he could take there, and is that a second part of the plan, or just because he has done his shooting and he is in escape mode and it’s where he ended up? Those are unknowns,” said CNN Chief Law Enforcement and Intelligence Analyst John Miller.

An escape on the water could make the search easier, D’Amico said, because the waterways would limit the suspect’s movement. A warm boat motor, he added, would also get the attention of authorities using thermal imaging technology. But D’Amico believes the suspect probably left in a second car, one he either left there or maybe stole.

“It appears he knows the area. He didn’t make that turn (to the boat launch) by mistake. It suggests he had a plan,” Miller said, “and the plan was to stay at large and not be captured there or immediately after, as so many of these active shooters are.”

That adds “another element,” Miller said: “It’s not just a manhunt within a small area, but somebody who’s got the resources and the training to put some distance between” himself and the police.

CNN’s Curt Devine, Casey Tolan, Isabelle Chapman and Allison Gordon contributed to this report.

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Law enforcement could face these challenges in their hunt for the Lewiston shooting suspect