Published On: Mon, Oct 30th, 2023

Maine gunman spoke ‘aggressively’ of guns, former co-workers say, as more warning signs emerge

Maine gunman spoke ‘aggressively’ of guns, former co-workers say, as more warning signs emerge
Maine gunman spoke ‘aggressively’ of guns, former co-workers say, as more warning signs emerge

LEWISTON, Maine — More warning signs and alarming remarks have emerged about Maine gunman Robert Card, putting further scrutiny on whether law enforcement and the military did enough to prevent the Army reservist’s massacre in Maine’s second-largest city last week.

Card, 40, was found dead Friday of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, two days after officials said he burst into a bowling alley and then a bar, killing 18 people and wounding 13 others.

Maine shootings: A timeline of the fatal Lewiston attacks

Over the weekend, as the investigation shifted away from an intense manhunt and toward the search for a motive, law enforcement began facing pointed questions about Card’s time under psychiatric treatment in July and why attempts by local deputies to make contact with him in mid-September turned up empty. Maine Gov. Janet Mills also drew repeated questions at a news conference Monday about whether law enforcement’s response was adequate.

Former co-workers at Maine Recycling Corp. say they saw a change in Card’s mental state earlier this year. Card was employed as a commercial driver from February 2022 to early June 2023.

Card’s behavior grew increasingly erratic and he spoke “aggressively” about guns before he left his job, one co-worker told NBC News. Another colleague said a supervisor was warned that Card supposedly had made threats of workplace gun violence, but nothing was done and it felt like “it was swept under the rug.”

The former co-workers, who asked not to be identified because they are still employed by Maine Recycling, expressed dismay that Card had access to his firearms even though he appeared to be struggling mentally when they saw him regularly this year.

One co-worker said he had no issues when Card first started at Maine Recycling, but about a year later, the co-worker said, Card exhibited a “total mood change.”

“He irrationally snapped. We’d do good the whole day, but then would say that I touched him. He said I was sexually harassing him, calling him a pedophile,” the co-worker said.

While he said he didn’t hear Card explicitly threaten to bring guns to work, he spoke of them regularly and had expressed a desire to buy a silencer.

“I knew it was going to come eventually. I said, ‘One day, he’s probably going to shoot someone up,’” the co-worker said. “He was bringing up guns heavily and aggressively. It was a very weird situation.”

Maine Recycling said Monday that while Card was known to be a gun enthusiast, supervisors were not aware of any conversations in which he may have threatened workplace violence and take such threats seriously. Card left the company on good terms.

“We may never know, and certainly will never comprehend, why he committed these horrific acts against our neighbors and friends, or why he chose to end his life where he did,” the company said in a prior statement.

Card’s body was discovered Friday in an unlocked trailer in an overflow parking lot of Maine Recycling, about a mile from where police found his abandoned car within hours of the shooting.

Card legally purchased the high-powered rifle this year that he’s believed to have used in the attack, officials said.

In the months before, he had also tried to pick up an order for a gun silencer from Coastal Defense Firearms in Auburn, Maine. But shop owner Rick LaChapelle told NBC News over the weekend that he had denied the purchase because Card disclosed a history of mental health issues on a federal form. ABC News first reported the interaction.

Card’s family, speaking a day after the shooting, said he had been fitted for high-powered hearing aids a couple of months ago and complained of hearing voices.

“His mind was twisting them around,” Katie Card, the suspect’s sister-in-law, told NBC News. “He was humiliated by the things that he thought were being said.”

She said the family reached out to police and Card’s Army Reserve base as they “got increasingly concerned.”

Two senior law enforcement officials said Card’s unit commanders sent him to receive psychiatric treatment this summer after they became concerned about threats he made to the base and his claims of hearing voices.

Card, a sergeant first class who enlisted in December 2002, spent about two weeks undergoing inpatient psychiatric treatment and was released, the officials said.

A Defense Department official confirmed that Card’s unit, which had been training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, requested law enforcement intervention in July after he began behaving erratically. New York State Police responded and took him to Keller Army Community Hospital at the U.S. Military Academy for medical evaluation.

It is not clear what further action was taken, but Card’s guns were not confiscated, which could have been required under Maine state law if he were forcibly committed and presented a “likelihood of foreseeable harm.” Gun control advocates criticize Maine’s gun laws as being weak compared to other states with so-called red flag laws, also known as extreme risk laws. Maine’s “yellow flag” laws allow only law enforcement to petition a judge to restrict a person’s access to guns, and that’s after the person undergoes a required medical evaluation.

Still, there was enough concern over Card that last month Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said the Army Reserve had informed his department about Card’s threats to “shoot up” the National Guard base in Saco, Maine, The Associated Press first reported Saturday. Merry said he sent a statewide alert to law enforcement agencies after dispatching deputies to Card’s home in Bowdoin, but they could not find him. Merry could not recall if there was any follow-up by his department, and he did not return further requests for comment.

In response to what else law enforcement knew about Card, whose only known prior offense was a 2007 arrest for driving under the influence, the Maine Department of Public Safety said no bulletins or assistance had been requested through the Maine Information and Analysis Center, a database for law enforcement officials.

Mills declined to criticize police when asked pointedly Monday by reporters if she was satisfied with how they handled Card’s case prior to the shootings.

“We’ll continue to investigate who knew what when, and we want the best answer to how can we prevent something like this from happening again, including why did it happen in the first place,” the governor said.

Given the potential missed warnings, some family members of those killed in Lewiston are questioning why Card’s mental health wasn’t further scrutinized or why law enforcement wasn’t able to make contact.

“Somehow the ball was dropped,” said Leroy Walker, whose son, Joseph, 57, was killed at Schemengees Bar & Grille, where he was a manager. “It hasn’t all been brought out to us on how it got dropped. There could be multiple people who should be slapped on the hand.”

While taking away firearms completely isn’t the answer, he said, there can still be a better system to help those struggling with mental illness.

“It was missed by many people. He should have been hospitalized and he should have been kept there,” Walker said, adding, “There were too many things dropped.”

Erik Ortiz reported from Lewiston, and Melissa Chan from New York.

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