Hundreds of tips pour in about the Maine massacre, but the gunman still at large
Oct 27, 2023, 9:42 AM | Updated: 1:06 pm
(CNN) — Investigators searching for mass shooting suspect Robert Card have received more than 530 tips from the public, Maine’s public safety commissioner said Friday. But the “armed and dangerous” suspect accused of killing 18 people Wednesday remains at large, and crews are scrambling to find him by land, sea and air.
While the manhunt intensifies, communities engulfed with grief are now riddled with anxiety. Two days after a gunman shot up a bowling alley and a bar, ravaging the tranquil city of Lewiston, residents across a 700-square-mile area were urged to keep sheltering in place Friday as authorities raced to find the suspect.
Divers will search the area near a boat launch where Card’s vehicle was found, Maine’s Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said Friday. “We will be putting divers in the water along the Androscoggin River,” he said.
Air assets will also be deployed to help the divers look for evidence, the commissioner said.
Despite a concentration of resources in the river area near the town of Lisbon, Card’s escape path remains unclear. “I’m not saying we know the suspect is in the water,” Sauschuck said.
While dive teams scour the river, investigators are expected to return to Card’s home on Friday – hours after law enforcement officers surrounded the home Thursday night and ordered any occupants to come out. It’s not clear whether anyone was inside.
Card, a longtime Army reservist and skilled marksman, should be considered armed and dangerous, authorities said. So for a second day, schools and businesses are shut down as hundreds of law enforcement officers swarm parts of southern Maine in pursuit of Card.
Investigators have recovered a cell phone that belonged to Card, a law enforcement official said Friday. That adds to the challenges for investigators, who routinely track cell phones to find suspects. It’s not clear if Card is carrying another phone.
Investigators have also found a note left by the suspect, though it doesn’t reveal a motive, the law enforcement official said.
While the motive for the massacre remains uncertain, a key theory has emerged in the investigation, law enforcement sources say.
Card recently broke up with a longtime girlfriend, and investigators are pursuing the theory that Card went to the bowling alley and the bar because they were places the couple used to frequent, law enforcement sources told CNN’s John Miller.
Investigators believe the ex-girlfriend had signed up to play in a tournament at the bar Wednesday night, the sources said. According to the Facebook page for Schemengees Bar and Grill, Wednesday is “Industry Night,” which draws employees from other bars and restaurants in the Lewiston area.
The massacre in Maine is the deadliest of at least 566 mass shootings in the US so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. With 18 victims killed, the mass shooting is also the deadliest since the Uvalde massacre in May 2022, when 21 people were gunned down at a Texas elementary school.
How the terror unfolded
The horror began around 7 p.m. Wednesday in Lewiston, where authorities say Card opened fire at Just-in-Time Recreation and then later at Schemengees Bar & Grille. In addition to the 18 people killed, 13 others were injured, Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday.
The shooting and subsequent manhunt spurred shelter-in-place orders for Androscoggin and northern Sagadahoc counties, which encompass Lewiston and the nearby Auburn and Lisbon communities.
“Nerves are rattled right now – (I’m) keeping an eye on the woods,” said Cory, a Lisbon resident and father of a 10-year-old daughter. “Seeing the cops coming around here, that makes me feel a million times better.”
Card, 40, faces an arrest warrant in eight counts of murder, police said. Authorities on Thursday at least twice converged on Card’s last known address, a home in Bowdoin, Maine, about 15 miles east of Lewiston.
Thursday evening, investigators believed they detected something inside or near the home, spurring a flurry of activity, a law enforcement official said. A CNN crew there heard an officer say “come out with your hands up.” But that episode appeared to end uneventfully, with authorities leaving the scene two hours later and Maine State Police saying they were done there for the night.
Earlier Thursday, investigators executed a search warrant at the home, looking for computers, notes, weapons and any evidence that might indicate a plan for the shootings, law enforcement sources told CNN.
In the suspect’s car – found abandoned some 8 miles from Lewiston in Lisbon, authorities said – investigators found a gun, a law enforcement official told CNN on Thursday. It has not been determined if the firearm was used in the shooting, the source said.
Authorities are expected to return to Bowdoin to continue investigating Friday, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss said.
The search for Card could be complicated by his background in combat training. Card is a certified firearms instructor and a member of the US Army Reserve, law enforcement officials in Maine told CNN.
Katherine Schweit, a former FBI senior official, said Card may have an advantage.
“He’s in his own backyard, and we’re coming into his own backyard to try to find him in a game of hide and seek. He knows what he’s looking for and where he’s going to go,” Schweit told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Thursday.
“He has a plan, and law enforcement has to follow those trails wherever they can find them until he makes a decision to stop. So, if he keeps going, that’s just what we’re facing.”
A father of 2 and a pioneer in the deaf community are among the dead
Some of the 18 victims killed Wednesday night have been publicly identified.
Tricia Asselin was a part time employee at the bowling alley, but she was there Wednesday night bowling recreationally when the shots rang out, according to her brother DJ Johnson.
“What I’m told is that when it all started happening, she ran up to the counter and started to call 911, and that’s when she was shot,” Johnson told CNN on Thursday. “That was just her. She wasn’t going to run. She was going to try and help.”
Asselin, 53, had a son who meant the world to her, Johnson said.
“Her son was her entire life. From the day he was born to yesterday. She did everything for him … he was her world,” Johnson said.
Asselin’s sister, Bobbi Nichols, also was at the bowling alley when the shooting happened, but she was able to flee the rampage, Johnson said.
Tommy Conrad, a manager at the bowling alley, was killed, his family confirmed to CNN affiliate WMTW. Conrad, 34, left behind a 9-year-old daughter.
Bryan MacFarlane was playing in a cornhole tournament at the restaurant when he was killed, his sister Keri Brooks told CNN. MacFarlane, part of the local deaf community, typically went to Schemengees on Wednesdays, when other deaf people gather to play the game, Brooks said. He leaves behind his mother and his sister.
“I grew up in Maine and the deaf community is a tight-knit community,” Brooks said. “Not only was my brother slain, but my friends were too.”
MacFarlane, 40, was one of the first deaf people in Vermont to get his commercial trucking driver’s license, Brooks said.
Peyton Brewer-Ross also was at that cornhole tournament when he was fatally shot, according to his brother Ralph Brewer. He enjoyed playing the game and spending time with friends at the restaurant.
Brewer-Ross was a father of two children and “loved being a dad more than anything else,” his brother said, adding he had just celebrated his daughter’s second birthday a couple of weeks ago.
“She woke up telling her mom, Rachel (Sloat), ‘Where’s daddy, where’s daddy?’” Brewer said. “At 2 years old, she isn’t going to remember any of this, but in the same breath, she isn’t going to have her dad be there the rest of her life.”
Shootings reported 12 minutes apart
The first 911 calls reporting a shooting came at 6:56 p.m. Wednesday from the bowling alley. Then about 12 minutes later, multiple 911 calls reported a shooting at the restaurant, roughly 4 miles away.
As police arrived on scene, people were fleeing the bowling alley, video obtained by CNN shows. Another video showed a person on a stretcher taken to an ambulance.
Nichols told CNN she and her sister were bowling in separate lanes when she heard a “bang” but didn’t know what was happening until she heard a second shot. Then she lost sight of her sister when everyone began frantically running away.
“I couldn’t see her, and everybody was running. I got caught in people trampling and running out,” Nichols told CNN on Thursday.
Nichols said she ran as far as she could before finally reaching a fence and some trees, behind which she and others hid as they wondered what was going on. Two hours later, she later learned Asselin was killed trying to call 911.
“When she called 911 to save everybody, she lost her life because of it. She was a great person,” Nichols said. “She was a hero.”
Suspect had firearm training, sources say
Card is a petroleum supply specialist in the Army Reserve and first enlisted in 2002, according to records provided by the Army on Thursday.
And while Card is a certified firearms instructor, law enforcement officials told CNN, his time in the Army did not include training as a firearms instructor “nor did he serve in that capacity for the Army,” spokesperson Bryce Dubee said in a statement to CNN.
Still, Card had extensive training, including land navigation, making him “very comfortable in the woods,” said Clifford Steeves, who told CNN he knew Card when they both served in the Army Reserve.
Steeves met Card in the early 2000s when they served together and knew him until about a decade ago, he said. Steeves didn’t witness any concerning behavior from Card, whom he described as an “outdoors type of guy.” He said Card is a skilled marksman who was one of the best shooters in his unit.
“He was a very nice guy – very quiet. He never overused his authority or was mean or rude to other soldiers,” Steeves said. “It’s really upsetting.”
Over the summer, Card was at the Camp Smith training facility in upstate New York, when he started making statements about hearing voices and having thoughts about wanting to hurt fellow soldiers, law enforcement sources told CNN’s John Miller. He received a command referral to a military hospital and spent a few weeks under evaluation, the sources said.
Katie O’Neill, Card’s sister-in-law, told CNN he didn’t have a long history with mental health challenges.
“This is something that was an acute episode. This is not who he is,” O’Neill said. “He is not someone who has had mental health issues for his lifetime or anything like that.”
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, John Miller, Travis Nichols, Amanda Jackson, David Williams, Caroll Alvarado, Eric Levenson, Maria Santana, Haley Brtizky, Joe Sutton, Sara Smart, Brian Todd, Evan Perez, Macie Goldfarb, Maria Sole Campinoti, Andy Rose, Josh Campbell and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.
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