LEWISTON, Maine | Shocked and fearful Maine residents kept to their homes Friday as hundreds of heavily armed police and FBI agents searched intensely for Robert Card, an Army reservist authorities say fatally shot 18 people at a bowling alley and a bar in the worst mass killing in state history.
Much of Thursday’s search focused on a large property belonging to one of Card’s relatives in rural Bowdoin, where trucks and vans full of armed agents from the FBI and other agencies eventually surrounded a home. Concerned locals said Card could have the upper hand in navigating the rural, wooded area that he knows well.
The Cards have lived in Bowdoin for generations, neighbors said. Various members of the Card family own hundreds of acres in the area.
Richard Goddard, who lives on the road where the search took place, knows the Card family. Robert Card knows the terrain well, Goddard said.
“This is is his stomping ground. He grew up here,” he said. “He knows every ledge to hide behind, every thicket.”
Card and anyone else inside the home were repeatedly ordered to surrender on Thursday. But hours later, after repeated announcements and a search, authorities moved off and it was still unclear whether Card had ever been at the location, state police said.
“You need to come outside now with nothing in your hands. Your hands in the air,” police said through a loudspeaker. In most instances when police execute warrants — even for suspects wanted for violent crimes — they move quickly to enter the home.
Several homes were being searched and every lead pursued in the hunt for Card, a 40-year-old with firearms instructor training. Authorities said he should be considered armed and dangerous and not approached.
Card is suspected of opening fire with at least one rifle at a bar and a bowling alley Wednesday in Lewiston, which is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Bowdoin and is Maine’s second-largest city. The evening shootings killed 18 people and wounded 13 others, with three people still hospitalized in critical condition, authorities said.
The victims of the shootings include Bob Violette, 76, a retiree who was coaching a youth bowling league and was described as devoted, approachable and kind. Auburn City Councilor Leroy Walker told media outlets that his son, Joe, a manager at the bar and grille, died going after the shooter with a butcher knife. Peyton Brewer-Ross was a dedicated pipefitter at Bath Iron Works whose death leaves a gaping void in the lives of his partner, young daughter and friends, members of his union said.
The manager of the youth bowling league vowed that the league would survive despite the devastating grief members were feeling.
“The people we lost were not just random league bowlers, they were people who contributed significantly to the development of our sport and our experience,” said Mark Fortier, who is also the manager of the Maine State U.S. Bowling Congress.
Authorities have not said how many guns were used or how they were obtained.
Schools, doctor’s offices and grocery stores closed and people stayed behind locked doors in cities as far as 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the scenes of the shootings. Maine’s largest city, Portland, closed its public buildings, while Canada Border Services Agency issued an “armed and dangerous” alert to its officers stationed along the U.S. border.
Streets in Lewiston and surrounding communities were virtually deserted late Thursday night. The occasional truck or police patrol would drive through neighborhoods dotted with illuminated giant pumpkins and ghosts for Halloween.
Schools in Lewiston and Portland remained closed Friday. Bates College in Lewiston also cancelled classes Friday and postponed the inauguration of the school’s first Black president.
April Stevens lives in the same neighborhood where one of the shootings took place. She turned on all her lights overnight and locked her doors. She knew someone killed at the bar and another person injured who needed surgery.
“We’re praying for everyone,” Stevens said through tears.
The search for the suspected shooter also prompted dread elsewhere in Maine. In Portland, some restaurants and bars closed their doors, bringing an unusual early evening quiet to the typically bustling downtown.
One popular sea food joint posted a sign on its door saying it would remain closed while the staff awaited word on the manhunt. Another restaurant canceled reservation Thursday “for the safety of our guests and staff.”
The attacks stunned a state of only 1.3 million people that has one of the country’s lowest homicide rates: 29 killings in all of 2022.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills promised to do whatever was needed to find Card and to “hold whoever is responsible for this atrocity accountable … and to seek full justice for the victims and their families.”
As authorities searched for Card, details about his recent behavior emerged. Card underwent a mental health evaluation in mid-July after he began acting erratically while with his reserve regiment, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
A bulletin sent to police across the country after the attack said Card had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this past summer after “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.
Maine doesn’t require permits to carry guns, and the state has a longstanding culture of gun ownership that is tied to its traditions of hunting and sport shooting. Keeping in mind the strong support for gun rights, lawmakers passed a “yellow flag” law in 2019 that would require police to seek a medical evaluation of anyone believed to be dangerous before then trying to take their guns away. However, critics charged that it was a weaker version of the tougher “red flag” laws that many other states have adopted.
A neighbor, Dave Letarte, said Card’s family let them deer hunt on their property and were kind, although Letarte said he noticed Card appeared to have mental problems for a while.
“People have problems, but you don’t expect them to go on the deep end like that,” Letarte said. “When we saw it on the news last night, I was shocked.”
Thursday, a herd of cows grazed on one Card property adjacent to where law enforcement searched. Neighbors said the Cards owned the local sawmill, and that years ago a member of the Card family donated the land for a local church. Another neighbor who checked her yearbook told the AP that when Card was a freshman in high school, there were two other Cards in the same class.
A telephone number listed for Card in public records was not in service. A woman who answered a phone number for one of Card’s relatives said Thursday afternoon the family was helping the FBI. She didn’t give her name or additional details.
Eight murder warrants were issued for Card after authorities identified eight of the victims, police said. Ten more will likely be issued once the names of the rest of the dead are confirmed, said Maine State Police Col. William Ross.
Three of the 13 people wounded in the shootings were in critical condition and five were hospitalized but stable, Central Maine Medical Center officials said.
The attack started at Just-In-Time Recreation, where a children’s bowling league was taking place, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Patrick Poulin was supposed to be at the bowling center with his 15-year-old son, who is in a league that was practicing Wednesday. They stayed home, but he estimates there were probably several dozen young bowlers, ages 4 to 18, along with their parents, in the facility. Poulin’s brother was there, he said, and shepherded some of the children outside when the shooting began.
“He’s pretty shook up,” Poulin said Thursday. “And it’s just sinking in today, like, wow, I was very close to being there. And a lot of the people that got hurt, I know.”
Less than 15 minutes later, numerous 911 calls started coming in from Schemengees Bar and Grille a few miles away.
The search for Card covered both land and water. The Coast Guard sent out a patrol boat Thursday morning along the Kennebec River, but after hours of searching, they found “nothing out of the ordinary,” said Chief Petty Officer Ryan Smith, who is in charge of the Coast Guard’s Boothbay Harbor Station.
A car believed to belong to Card had been discovered by a boat launch in the town of Lisbon near the Androscoggin River, which connects to the Kennebec, and Card’s 15-foot (4.5-meter) boat remains unaccounted for, Smith said.
In many past U.S. mass shootings, the suspect was found — whether dead or alive — within minutes. But Card was still on the loose more than a full day after the shootings.
At Bates College, students stayed in dorms with the blinds closed, said Diana Florence, whose son is a sophomore. She has a daughter who is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was locked down twice last month for a shooting and a man with a gun.
“I could not believe it — that this is happening again. It’s happening to my son after it just happened to my daughter,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.
The shootings mark the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University.
Ramer reported from Concord, New Hampshire, Whittle from Portland, Maine, and Smith reported from Bowdoin, Maine. Associated Press Jake Bleiberg in Portland, Maine; Robert Bukaty and Robert Bumsted in Lewiston, Maine; Michael Balsamo in New York; Darlene Superville and Lolita Baldor in Washington, D.C.; Michael Casey in Boston; Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire; Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; and Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.