Police across Maine were alerted just last month to ‘veiled threats’ by the U.S. Army reservist who would go on to carry out the worst mass shooting in the state’s history, after concerns he would ‘snap and commit a mass shooting’.
It was just one of a string of missed red flags that preceded last week’s massacre at a bowling alley.
Two local law enforcement chiefs have now revealed that a statewide awareness alert was sent in mid-September to be on the lookout for Robert Card after the firearms instructor made threats against his base and fellow soldiers.
Patrols were stepped-up on the base and a visit was paid to Card’s home only six weeks ago – neither of which turned up any sign of him – after which, they moved on.
During the welfare check a 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.’
Law enforcement visited both the military base where shooter Robert Card was a firearms instructor as well as his home, pictured, but found no trace of him – after which, they moved on
Maine police were alerted weeks ago about the shooter’s threats and even paid a visit to shooter Robert Card’s home, but he could not be found. Pictured, law enforcement are seen on a manhunt in the aftermath of the mass shooting
Police were alerted weeks ago about shooter Robert Card’s threats and even paid a visit to his home, but he could not be found
A letter from the National Guard shared by a fellow guardsman noted how they were ‘concerned that [the reservist] is going to snap and commit a mass shooting.’
Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, whose jurisdiction includes Card’s home in Bowdoin, said the Army Reserve tipped off his department in September to the reservist’s threats but when he wasn’t there, the case was set aside.
‘We added extra patrols, we did that for about two weeks. … The guy never showed up,’ said Jack Clements, the police chief in Saco, home to the U.S. Army Reserve base where Card trained.
The sheriff then sent the awareness alert to every law enforcement agency in the state after his deputy came back empty-handed from a welfare check to Card’s home.
‘We couldn’t locate him,’ Merry said, adding that he couldn’t recall if there was any follow-up because ‘I don’t have any reports in front of me.’
Military officials declined to comment further about Card, specifically whether the threats relayed to the sheriff in September were new or the same ones Card had made during an Army reserve training exercise near West Point, New York, in July.
That’s when police say Card was committed to a mental health facility for two weeks after acting erratically and ‘hearing voices and threats to shoot up’ a military base.
There were other warning signs too: a gun shop owner revealed over the weekend how in July Card walked in with the intention of purchasing a silencer.
Nearly three months before Robert Card would tear through a bar and a bowling
‘He came in and filled out the form, he checked off a box that incriminated himself saying that he was in an institution,’ Rick LaChapelle, owner of Coastal Defense Firearms, told ABC News.
‘Our staff was fantastic, let him finish filling out the form, and said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Card, we cannot give you this… at this point in time, we cannot release this silencer to you because of the answers that you’ve given us.”
‘We did what we were supposed to do and hopefully saved a lot of lives by the proper, just following the proper procedures,’ LaChapelle said.
He believes that if the silencer would have been used, even more people might have lost their lives as they would not have been able to hear the gunshots being fired – allowing some to run for cover.
‘He could have spent more time in each location and it could have been more methodical, and my heart goes out to the people, the victims. This is just absolutely horrible, horrible. I’m frustrated that, I think, some of this could have been averted,’ LaChapelle added.
Card had been ‘committed to mental health facility for two weeks during summer 2023 and released’ after he reported that he had been hearing voices and made threats to shoot up a National Guard base.
The National Guard told the Sagadahoc sheriff’s office Card had begun hearing insulting voices since the spring.
Robert Card can be seen entering Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston, Maine in a shooting spree that left 18 dead and 13 others wounded
On July 15 near West Point, he and other soldiers ‘had gone to a convenience store to get some beer,’ according to CNN .
‘In the parking lot [he] accused three of them of calling him a pedophile and said he would take care of it,’ a letter shared by the Guardsman said. ‘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.
‘[He] told me to leave him alone and tried to slam the door in my face.’
Card was then taken to a base hospital whereupon a psychologist determined he needed further treatment leading to the 14-day psychiatric stay.
The letter went on to share further details: ‘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.’
Authorities say the 40-year-old Card opened fire with a high-powered rifle on a bowling alley and then a bar in Lewiston Wednesday night, killing 18 people and wounding 13 more.
After an intensive two-day search that put the state on edge, Card was found dead on Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Despite the earlier threats, the FBI said on Saturday that Card had not been on its radar, saying it ‘did not have nor did it receive any tips or information concerning Robert Card.’
The bureau added that its instant background check system ‘was not provided with or in possession of any information that would have prohibited Card from a lawful firearm purchase.’
Card’s case stands as a glaring example of missed red flags, with many unanswered questions about what the military, police, mental health professionals and relatives could have done to prevent the massacre.
While Maine does not have a red flag law, it does have a more limited ‘yellow-flag’ law that would still allow police to petition a judge to take a person’s firearms away if a medical practitioner deems that person to be a threat.
For his part, Saco police Chief Clements defended his department’s response to the alert about Card, which he described as a ‘generic thing that came out saying, hey, you know, we’ve had some report that this guy’s made some veiled threats.’
Clements noted that his department gets many such alerts and that his officers gave this one its due attention, keeping an eye on the base for any sign of Card.
‘Never came in contact with this guy, never received any phone calls from the reserve center saying, `Hey, we got somebody who was causing a problem,´’ he said. ‘We never got anything.’
Another law enforcement agency that came in contact with Card was the New York State Police, which on July 16 was called in West Point by commanders of the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment with concerns about Card’s erratic behavior and ‘threats to other members of his military unit’ during a training exercise.
Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said in news conference on Saturday that while Robert Card, a firearms instructor who grew up in the area had a history of mental illness, there was no evidence that he had ever been involuntarily committed
All 18 victims of the Maine mass shooting have now been identified
State Police troopers took Card, a sergeant 1st class, to the Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point for what would be two weeks of mental health evaluation.
What New York State Police did about Card’s threats is unclear.
‘This is an active investigation, and the New York State Police does not comment on active investigations, nor investigations in which we are not the lead agency,’ it said in a statement on Friday before Card was found dead.
Jonathan Crisp, an army lawyer for two decades before starting a criminal defense practice, said when soldiers are committed involuntarily to mental health facilities by others in the chain of command, it is a ‘reportable’ event under Army regulations that triggers a requirement to alert others.
A provost marshal enters the incident into a military database that puts the FBI on notice so it can enter the name into a background list of people prevented from buying weapons.
Two local law enforcement chiefs have now revealed that a statewide awareness alert was sent in mid-September to be on the lookout for Robert Card after the firearms instructor made threats against his base and fellow soldiers. Last week’s manhunt for Card is pictured above
‘If they took him and he didn’t want to go and he refused to be admitted, it’s a slam dunk,’ Crisp said. ‘This should have been reported.’
But Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said in news conference on Saturday that while Card had a history of mental illness, there was no evidence that he had ever been involuntarily committed.
‘Just because there appears to be a mental health nexus to this scenario, the vast majority of people with mental health diagnosis will never hurt anybody,’ Sauschuck said.
Jody Madeira, an Indiana University law professor who has studied gun laws, said police in one state can alert counterparts in another state that someone is a danger, and the military can do the same with local police.
She said someone dropped the ball because Card’s threats and medical evaluation should have triggered a yellow flag seizure of his guns when he returned home.
‘He slipped through the cracks,’ Madeira said. ‘There were warning signs.’