A sense of relief washed over a grieving Maine community that endured two days of fear after authorities announced the man accused of killing 18 people at a bowling alley and a restaurant earlier this week was found dead on Friday evening.
The body of Robert Card, 40, was discovered near a river some 10 miles from the shattered community of Lewiston with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
Card’s body was found inside a box trailer sitting in an overflow parking lot of Maine Recycling Corporation in Lisbon, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference Saturday morning.
Card had recently been fired from the recycling center, a law enforcement source told CNN.
“Some of those trailers are locked. Some of those trailers aren’t,” Sauschuck said. “He was found inside one of those boxes that was unlocked from the outside.”
Two firearms were found alongside Card’s body, Sauschuck said, and he was wearing the same sweatshirt seen in surveillance video of the Wednesday night shooting, suggesting he never changed his clothes. It is unclear when he took his own life.
Sauschuck said the facility was initially searched and considered clear, but the owner of Maine Recycling directed law enforcement to additional trailers that investigators did not initially realize were part of the same recycling center.
The discovery ended a roughly two-day manhunt that left many residents in the serene, picturesque area living on edge and fearful to leave their homes.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills said she, like others, was relieved that the manhunt and the fear that came attached to it was over.
“Like many people, I’m breathing a sigh of relief tonight knowing that Robert Card is no longer a threat to anyone,” Mills said at a news conference Friday evening. “I know there are some people – many people – who share that sentiment, but I also know that his death might not bring solace to many.”
She said the discovery would allow the community to move on and begin “a long and difficult road to healing – but we will heal together.”
The extensive manhunt started Wednesday night after gunshots rang out at Just-in-Time Recreation and later at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston, according to officials. The 18 people killed, whom officials identified Friday, ranged in age from 14 to 76. They included a boy who was bowling with his father, contestants in a cornhole tournament for the deaf, and several fathers who leave behind young children. The shooting rampage left 13 others injured, officials said. Five of the injured victims were still hospitalized as of Saturday, three of whom remain in critical condition.
A survivor of the massacre, whose cousin Tricia Asselin was killed in the shooting, was relieved to hear the suspect was found dead so the “community itself can definitely move on without the fear of him out there,” she told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday night, adding she was “sad because we have so many questions left unanswered.”
Tammy Asselin, who was separated from her 10-year-old daughter as the shooting began at the bowling alley at Just-in-Time Recreation, continued: “I know it does give my daughter some peace to know that he has been caught, because that was a fear of hers – that he’s still out there.”
Law enforcement officials say Card, a US Army reservist and certified firearms instructor, had extensive training that included land navigation and firearms. He was described as a skilled marksman and one of the best shooters in his unit by someone who served with him.
‘Questions that will not be answered’
The wife of one of the people killed in the shootings says she is still processing the fact that the shooter is dead.
“I have mixed emotions about that,” Elizabeth Seal, wife of victim Joshua Seal, told CNN, speaking through an American Sign Language interpreter.
“First and foremost, I wanted him to be apprehended. I wanted to ask questions that will not be answered. Why did you do this? What was the motive? Why would you hurt so many families?”
At least three of the 18 victims were part of the local deaf community, according to their families. Joshua Seal was the director of interpreting services for the disability advocacy group Pine Tree Society.
Elizabeth Seal said she had known her husband since they were both in preschool. While the shooter’s suicide leaves her without answers, she also feels relieved. “It’s important that he was found,” she said, “and he’s gone.”
Rob Young, whose brother and nephew were killed in the shooting, told CNN this was the ideal outcome and that no answer as to “why” the shooter did what he did would bring their loved ones back.
Bill Young, a father who is described as the rock of the family, and his 14-year-old son, Aaron, were bowling together when they were both killed.
“For our family, this is kind of the outcome we wanted,” Young said. “It puts a closure for us as a family in a sense where … we don’t want to have to worry about him hurting anyone else.”
Tammy Asselin told CNN Friday she wants to know why the gunman targeted the locations, and why he fired when children were there, among other questions she said might never be answered now.
“You know, it is just those ‘why’ questions that unfortunately are left unanswered and we will probably never have those answers to.”
People across the community, state and country have echoed a sense of relief for those in area after days of uncertainty.
President Joe Biden said he is grateful Maine residents are safe “after spending excruciating days hiding in their homes.”
Biden, in a statement Friday night after the suspect was found dead, said his administration will continue “to provide everything that is needed to support the people of Maine.” He also reiterated his call to Congress to address gun violence.
“Americans should not have to live like this,” Biden said. “I once again call on Republicans in Congress to fulfill their obligation to keep the American people safe. Until that day comes, I will continue to do everything in my power to end this gun violence epidemic. The Lewiston community – and all Americans – deserve nothing less.”
Even before the discovery of Card’s body, the Lewiston community showcased its strength Friday. People trickled onto the streets of downtown Lewiston, covered in fall leaves, amid the lingering sense of uncertainty over Card’s whereabouts and alarming messages from authorities to be vigilant.
A steady stream of people walked the sidewalks, and entered and exited buildings. Several drivers traveled through the area even before the shelter-in-place order, which authorities enacted early in the manhunt, was lifted early Friday evening, just hours before authorities said Card’s body had been found.
Someone decorated trees with supportive paper-hearted messages like “to my community” and “to my neighbors” on trees in downtown Lewiston.
Several businesses remained closed throughout the afternoon, but some owners, like the Halal markets serving the area’s immigrant community, said they opened their doors for a shortened period Friday due to safety concerns.
An emotional Deborah Roy, still grieving from the loss of her 92-year-old mother a few weeks ago, tried to hold back tears as she told CNN she’d been at home for three days before visiting a grocery store earlier Friday in Lisbon, a town 15 minutes away from Lewiston.
“I just wanted to go for a ride to get away,” Roy said. A line of customers stretched to the back of the store that afternoon as several other businesses remained closed during the shelter-in-place order.
Roy said she saw “people, cars everywhere, (and) cameras” while en route to the store.
“When I came down over that bridge and I saw all the officers, it hit home,” Roy said tearfully.
“I’m just blown away to see this happening in our own little town,” she said. “How one person can tip the world upside down, it’s devastating.”
Details about when Card died unclear
Just over 48 hours after the manhunt began, authorities found Card’s body at 7:45 p.m. Friday near the Androscoggin River in the Lisbon Falls area, some 10 miles from Lewiston, said Sauschuck, the state public safety commissioner.
Earlier this week, authorities had found Card’s vehicle abandoned after the shooting near a boat launch in the Lisbon area.
Details about when Card died “remains to be seen,” Sauschuck said Friday, and authorities haven’t announced a motive in the shooting.
While no motive has been announced, a key theory about why the bowling alley and the restaurant were targeted emerged during the investigation, law enforcement sources told CNN Thursday. Card recently broke up with a longtime girlfriend, and investigators are pursuing the theory 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.
Card also left behind a note to his family, according to Sauschuck.
“It’s a note to a loved one, and it is saying that this is the passcode for my phone, this is the bank account numbers,” Sauschuck said in the Saturday press conference. “I wouldn’t describe it as an explicit suicide note, but the tone and tenor was that the individual was not going to be around and wanted to make sure that this loved one had access to this phone and whatever was in his phone.”
Card’s family has been cooperative with investigators and their assistance was critical in identifying the shooter, but they have unfairly received threats due to Card’s actions, according to Sauschuck.
“I think the first three people that called us to positively identify this individual based on the photos that were released were family members,” Sauschuck said. “That family has taken a great deal of grief, to include threats. People hanging out at their houses and saying, ‘Do they know? Is it their fault?”
Before Card’s death was announced, authorities had said they found a note from Card that prompted the manhunt’s shift to include a water search in the Androscoggin River. But after an extensive search that included divers, underwater vessels and aircraft – Card was still not found.
Over two days, law enforcement officers with long guns surrounded and searched various areas across the typically quiet area, from a greenhouse at Springworks Farm in Lisbon to homes and places connected to the suspect.
Law enforcement officers twice visited Card’s home on Thursday, surrounding the home that night ordering any occupants to come out, though it was unclear whether anyone was inside.
Investigators had earlier executed a search warrant Thursday at the home, looking for computers, notes, weapons and any evidence that might indicate a plan for the shootings, law enforcement sources told CNN.
A law enforcement official said Friday that investigators have also recovered a cell phone that belonged to the suspect.
Authorities: Gun used in shooting bought days before ‘erratic’ episode
Investigators said they believe the gun Card used in the massacre was legally bought just days before he was hospitalized and ordered into undergoing a psychiatric evaluation in mid-July, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
Card, who first enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2002, was reported by Army Reserve officials for “behaving erratically,” prompting New York State Police to respond to the Camp Smith military base where Card served in Cortlandt, New York.
Card was reportedly acting “belligerently and possibly intoxicated,” according to a source briefed on the matter, and state police transported him to a nearby hospital for suspected intoxication. He was released the next day, authorities said.
When asked for information about the encounter, a New York State Police spokesperson told CNN: “This is an active investigation, and the New York State Police does not comment on active investigations.”
The Army gave Card a “Command Referral” to seek treatment after a federal law enforcement source told Army personnel that Card had been “hearing voices” and had thoughts about “hurting other soldiers,” the source told CNN.
The encounters happened 10 days after Card purchased the high-powered rifle at a Maine gun store, law enforcement sources said. The powerful rifle was a Ruger SFAR chambered for high-powered 308 ammunition, according to the sources.
Although “there’s a mental health component to this”, Sauschuck said, that would not necessarily mean he was not eligible to buy a gun. Maine gun laws do not prohibit a person from buying a gun based strictly on a mental health diagnosis or treatment, according to Sauschuck.
“Based on what I’ve heard through conversations this morning, I’m told that we don’t have access to any ‘forcibly committed for treatment’ information in reference to Mr. Card,” Sauschuck said.
Without being required by a court to receive mental health treatment, Card’s name likely would not be flagged during a firearms purchase. “If that didn’t happen,” Sauschuck said, “then… the background check is not going to ping that this person is prohibited.”
A “long gun” was found inside the white Subaru owned by Card, Sauschuck said. Investigators are working to confirm that the gun was connected to the mass shooting.
Sources say the weapon found inside the car appears to be the same fired by the gunman, though a ballistics match has not been confirmed.
The weapon will be processed by the FBI and ATF for fingerprints and DNA and then run through laboratory testing to determine if the bullets and shell casings found at the scene match.
Along with the rifle, sources say Card also bought a Beretta 92-F 9mm semi-automatic pistol in July. It is the standard pistol of the US military.
How the terror unfolded
Shortly before 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Card began shooting at a Lewiston bowling alley, and later at a bar in the largely working-class community, authorities say.
Officers responded to the shooting locations in Lewiston within minutes of 911 calls, police said.
The initial 911 call from Just-In-Time Recreation came in at 6:56 p.m., and the first Lewiston police officer arrived at 7 p.m., Sauschuck said Friday.
People ran from the bowling alley as police cruisers responded to the scene, video obtained by CNN showed.
About 12 minutes after the first calls, authorities received multiple 911 calls about a shooter at Schemengees Bar and Grille Restaurant, roughly 4 miles from the bowling alley.
The shooting and subsequent manhunt for Card prompted shelter-in-place orders for Androscoggin and northern Sagadahoc counties, where Lewiston, Auburn and Lisbon are located.
Investigators executed a search warrant on Thursday at Card’s home, looking for computers, notes, weapons and any evidence that might indicate a plan for the shootings, law enforcement sources told CNN.
Authorities say they found the suspect’s car abandoned about 8 miles from Lewiston in Lisbon, with a trail connecting the place he abandoned his vehicle and the location where his body ultimately was found.
All 18 victims identified
The 18 victims from the shooting rampage were identified Friday – with victims ranging in age from 14 to 76.
Aaron Young, the boy killed while bowling with his father, was an honor student who took pride in his grades, Aaron’s sister and Bill’s stepdaughter, Kayla Putnam, told CNN affiliate WCVB. Aaron’s father, Bill, was an auto mechanic, Putnam said, and the rock of the family.
“There is nothing you can do to prepare for this,” Bill’s brother Rob Young said. His late brother’s wife “lost everything.”
“Her son was her entire world, and my brother was her best friend and soulmate, and they were both taken away,” Young said. “They said goodbye. He went to the bowling alley, and she never gets to see them again.”
Bob Violette, 76, was days away from turning 77 when he was shot and killed at the bowling alley, according to CNN affiliate WBZ.
Violette’s relatives say he was teaching a youth bowling league when gunfire erupted, and they believe he died protecting his students, WBZ reported. His wife, Lucille, also died in the attack.
“Bob’s helped with the youth league for as long as I can remember,” Violette’s friend Brandon Dubuc told WBZ. “If he was there with those kids, he was protecting those kids. I have no doubt about that.”
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz, Holly Yan, Jamiel Lynch, Jeanne Bonner, Jay Croft, Alaa Elassar, Raja Razek, Mary Kay Mallonee, and Michelle Watson contributed to this report.
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