Police who responded to Maine mass shooting describe potential missed opportunities to end manhunt

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Police who testified before an independent commission investigating the response to a mass shooting in Maine acknowledged potential missed opportunities to end a manhunt for the shooter that locked down the community and terrified residents.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills and state Attorney General Aaron Frey assembled the commission to review the events that led up to the shootings that killed 18 people at a bowling alley and a restaurant in Lewiston on Oct. 25. The commission has heard from officers with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office and it heard from members of the Lewiston and Lisbon police departments on Thursday.

The shooter’s body was found at a recycling facility in Lisbon two days after the attacks. Officers who spoke Thursday acknowledged that they initially responded to the recycling facility, searched for signs that shooter Robert Card was there, and moved on after finding nothing.

Officers did not find anything during the cursory search at the recycling facility a day before the body was discovered, Lisbon Officer Renee Bernard told the panel.

“We had just started searching that area of Capital Avenue,” Bernard said. “Knowing that he had been tied to that location, it was more about seeing if anything there was out of sorts.”

While previous hearings focused on encounters police had with Card, a former Army reservist, before the killings, Thursday’s centered more on the immediate aftermath of the shootings. The Lewiston and Lisbon departments were involved in the emergency response and subsequent manhunt.

Maine State Police took the lead in the response, said Lewiston Police Chief David St. Pierre. He told the panel it involved more communication between different agencies than is typical.

“This was an unprecedented event,” St. Pierre said.

Card was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot after the two-day search, police said. Lawyers for victims have also pointed to potential missed opportunities to prevent the shootings in the preceding weeks, as there had been warnings about Card’s deteriorating mental health and potential for violence.

Police on Thursday told the commission the response to the shootings and search for Card were complicated by bad tips they received while investigating. They acknowledged that happens frequently during a major police search.

Other police described a chaotic scene after the killings in which law enforcement pursued the manhunt while petrified residents were locked in their homes.

“We went where needed. Obviously there were still complaints and calls for service coming in,” said Lisbon Officer Nathan Morse. “We were just trying to get everywhere we needed to be as quick as we could.”

Thursday’s session was a late addition to the panel’s schedule. A session with Maine State Police scheduled for next week is still on the calendar, said Kevin Kelley, a commission spokesperson.

The commission is expected to investigate potential missed opportunities to prevent the shootings and produce a written report in the coming months. State officials have said the report will be available to the general public as well as the governor and others. Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Office members previously told the commission that they had difficulty using the state’s yellow flag law that allows guns to be confiscated from someone in a mental health crisis.

Thursday, Lisbon Police Chief Ryan McGee said that officers from Lisbon and Lewiston responded swiftly during the search for Card. Police learned that Card had an association with the recycling facility and relayed that information to Maine State Police, McGee said.

“We didn’t know where he went, but we weren’t taking any chances. We were trying to investigate all avenues,” McGee said.

Commission chair Daniel Wathen said Thursday that police response times to the shootings was “commendable.”

In a previous session, tearful family members of people who died in the shootings called on the commission to make sure others don’t experience a similar fate. Kathleen Walker, whose husband, Jason, was killed while rushing the gunman to try to stop him, told the commission: “The system failed.”

The commission also hopes to hear from Army officials at a future hearing.

There were numerous signs Card was unstable. He underwent a mental health evaluation last year after he began acting erratically during Army Reserve training. He had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks and had made threats that he would “shoot up” an Army drill center in Maine. There were also reports that he was hearing voices.

The governor, a Democrat, has announced a series of proposals aimed at preventing future gun tragedies. They include boosting background checks for private sales of weapons and improving mental crisis care. The Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee has also signed off on a proposal to make sure survivors of violent crime get access to support services.

“I’m eager to see this funded and passed into law, so that these vital services to support victims and survivors of violence can continue,” said Democratic Sen. Anne Carney, who proposed the bill.

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