NATIONAL NEWS

Cops were sent to Maine gunman’s home weeks before massacres

Oct 29, 2023, 5:56 PM | Updated: 5:56 pm

In this image taken from video released by the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office, an unidentifie...

In this image taken from video released by the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office, an unidentified gunman points a gun while entering Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston, Maine, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. Maine State Police ordered residents in the state's second-largest city to shelter in place Wednesday night as the suspect remains at large. (Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office via AP)

(CNN) — The Maine National Guard asked local police to check on the reservist who killed 18 people after a soldier became concerned he would “snap and commit a mass shooting,” according to information shared with CNN.

Officers from the Sagadahoc County and Kennebec County Sheriff’s Offices responded and tried to contact the man on September 16, less than six weeks before Wednesday’s massacres in a bowling alley and a bar, documents say, according to a law enforcement source.

The information obtained by CNN describes how the Sagadahoc County sergeant called for backup, tried without success to talk to the reservist and then received disturbing details from the Maine National Guard and the shooter’s family.

The responding sergeant from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office was told “when [he] answers the door at his trailer, in the past he usually does so with a handgun in hand out of view from the person outside,” according to the source familiar with the welfare check report.

The responding officer learned later in a letter from the National Guard that a fellow guardsman “is concerned that [the reservist] is going to snap and commit a mass shooting,” according to the report filed in connection with the wellness check.

The 40-year-old went on two shooting rampages in Lewiston, Maine, on Wednesday night, killing 18 people at Just-in-Time Recreation and at Schemengees Bar & Grille.

The initial panic was followed by 48 hours of fear and lockdown before he was found on Friday night, dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, about 10 miles away.

New questions raised

CNN’s reporting raises new questions about the lack of follow-through to make sure the man was not a danger despite serious warning signs that were known by authorities and are now being detailed for the first time.

Maine has a “yellow flag” law that can be used to assess an individual with access to weapons. The first step is for law enforcement to take someone believed to be dangerous into custody and then have them evaluated by a medical professional. After a diagnosis, a judge can approve an order to temporarily remove firearms, according to the law.

A File 6 missing person’s report appears to have been generated by the Sagadahoc sergeant who tried to check on the man, the source told CNN, but it is unclear if there was any action in regard to the shooter’s access to weapons. The source said the case appeared to have been closed on October 1, 24 days before the massacres.

CNN started raising questions about what information all law enforcement in the state had about threats and the mental health condition of the shooter on Thursday. But when CNN asked State Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck about it, he replied: “I won’t answer.”

He continued: “Based on what I’ve seen, we’re going to continue to work through that.”

A spokesperson for the state police on Sunday said the organization was the lead agency for the manhunt and homicide investigations but no other aspect, directing CNN to ask questions about what was known before to Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry.

“The Department of Public Safety (DPS) nor the Maine State Police requested a teletype on Robert Card prior to October 26. It should also be noted that no bulletins or assistance was requested from MSP’s Maine information and analysis center. DPS has no regulatory authority over law-enforcement agencies in Maine,” she said, declining to give any elaboration.

CNN was unable to reach Merry on Sunday. A woman who answered the door at his home said he was “done,” indicating he did not want to speak.

CNN also tried to request comments on this story from the shooter’s family and the Maine National Guard, who were closely involved in the September attempts to check on the man’s welfare. Neither has responded.

Parking lot threats

Soon after the man – Robert Card – was identified as the suspect, his mental health struggles were also reported.

According to information apparently supplied to Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office by the Maine National Guard, the man spent 14 days at a psychiatric hospital in July before being released.

That hospital stay was prompted after he had trouble with other soldiers in New York state in July.

The National Guard told the Sagadahoc sheriff’s office their reservist had begun hearing insulting voices in the spring, and they had only gotten worse.

On July 15 near West Point, he and other soldiers “had gone to a convenience store to get some beer,” according to information shared with CNN, quoting a National Guard letter.

“In the parking lot [he] accused three of them of calling him a pedophile and said he would take care of it,” it went on. “One of the soldiers who had been friends with [him] for a long time was there. [He] got in his face, shoved him, and told him to stop calling him a pedophile.”

The law enforcement source told CNN they said they calmed their comrade down, got back to the motel, where he locked himself in his room and would not respond.

The next day, another guardsman got the key to his room and saw him. “[He] told me to leave him alone and tried to slam the door in my face,” the report quoted him as saying, adding that the guardsman took the man to a base hospital where a psychologist determined he needed further treatment, which led to the 14-day psychiatric stay.

Punching a soldier

After his release, there was another incident that led to the Maine National Guard calling for a well-being check.

The man and a friend who was a soldier were driving home from a casino when he started talking about people calling him a pedophile, the National Guard statement to Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office said.

“When [his friend] told him to knock it off because he was going to get into trouble talking about shooting up places and people, [he] punched him,” the statement said. “According to [the friend], [he] said he has guns and is going to shoot up the drill center at Saco and other places … [the friend] is concerned that [he] is going to snap and commit a mass shooting.”

The threat to the National Guard facility in Saco led to some extra patrols, Saco Police Chief Jack Clements told WMTW Maine, but the troubled guardsman never showed up.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Merry told The New York Times he sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in Maine sometime in September after learning of the threat to the Saco base.

CNN had not been able to independently verify that.

Merry told The Associated Press it was the Army Reserve who tipped him off to the possible danger.

Investigators said the shooter already had the high-powered Ruger SFAR rifle later used in the killings by then, having bought it and a Beretta 92-F 9mm semi-automatic pistol earlier in July.

Brother told police the family could secure the weapons

When the Sagadahoc and Kennebec officers were deployed to his home on September 16, they did not make contact with the shooter but soon learned of his mental health problems and his guns, the law enforcement source told CNN.

The reservist would not answer the door to officers, the source said, so officers started to make calls to those who knew him.

The unit commander told one officer that the man no longer had any Guard weapons and arrangements had been made with his brother who had retrieved his personal firearms.

The commander also reportedly told the officer that he thought it best to let the man have time to himself.

The following day, the Sagadahoc officer spoke with the shooter’s brother, who warned him that the man would likely be armed if he did answer the door.

“I was later contacted by [the brother,] he told me that between him and his father they would work to ensure that [the man] does not have access to any firearms. They have a way to secure his weapons,” the source quoted from a welfare check report.

The responding police officer said he told the brother that the intention was to make sure his sibling did not hurt himself or others. He said his department would help to facilitate a mental health evaluation if needed.

That was on Sept. 17. Thirty-eight days later, the National Guard reservist walked into a bowling alley and started shooting.  A 14-year-old boy playing with his father and contestants in a cornhole tournament for the deaf were among those killed. He then went to a bar and killed more, including the manager who tried to stop him.

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Cops were sent to Maine gunman’s home weeks before massacres