AUGUSTA, Maine — The US Army Reserve warned a Maine sheriff in September that Robert R. Card II had descended into severe mental illness and that one of his fellow Army reservists was worried that Card was “going to snap and commit a mass shooting,” according to documents obtained by the Globe through a public records request.
The documents also show that Card’s ex-wife and 18-year-old son told the Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Department in May that Card was paranoid and hearing voices and that he had recently picked up 10 to 15 guns he had stored at his brother’s home.
The new documents show the gravity of the concerns relayed to the sheriff’s department in the months before Card perpetrated the worst mass shooting in New England in more than a decade. At a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston, Card killed 18 people and wounded at least a dozen more on Oct. 25, before dying of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot.
The documents were released, to the Globe and other outlets Monday, after a tense press conference in which Governor Janet Mills refused to answer repeated questions about law enforcement’s work leading up to the shootings — particularly who knew what about the gunman’s potential for violence, when they knew, and what actions were taken in response.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Mills promised that those questions would “be answered in due course.”
The documents, released by the sheriff’s department, provided at least some of those answers in stark and gut-wrenching detail.
In May, more than five months before the shootings, Card’s ex-wife and 18-year-old son told a Sagadahoc sheriff’s deputy that Card was paranoid and hearing voices and that he had recently retrieved an arsenal of guns from storage.
In July, three months before the shootings, the Army Reserve sent him to a psychiatric facility where he stayed for two weeks after he made veiled threats of violence to fellow reservists.
In late summer, he specifically threatened to commit a mass shooting, according to the letter from the Army Reserve.
In September, the Army Reserve sent a warning letter to the Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Department that could not have been more explicit in its expression of concern: he is “going to snap,” the letter said, relaying the fears of one of Card’s fellow reservists. He is going to “commit a mass shooting.”
Despite all these concerns, and the department’s failure to make contact with Card during two wellness checks, the department agreed to allow Card’s family to attempt to take away his weapons, rather than having law enforcement officials directly intervene, the new documents show.
“We believe that our agency acted appropriately and followed procedures for conducting an attempt to locate and wellness check,” Sagadahoc sheriff Joel Merry said in a statement, adding that his office will evaluate its procedures for conducting wellness checks.
’I would rather err on the side of caution’
The Army Reserve letter, written by an unnamed official, reached the sheriff’s department after what is described as months of tumultuous and alarming behavior by Card.
Card, a sergeant first class, had been “hearing voices calling him a pedophile . . . and other insults,” according to the letter.
In July, he accused his fellow reservists of making those insults. After that incident, the Army Reserve sent him to New York for treatment at Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital, where he spent 14 days, according to the letter.
Later, on the way home from a casino, Card punched a fellow reservist referred to as Hodgson, after accusing Hodgson of calling him a pedophile, the letter said. Card then told Hodgson that he had “guns and is going to shoot up the drill center at Saco and other places,” according to the letter.
The unnamed author of the letter wrote: “I would rather err on the side of caution with regards to Card since he is a capable marksman and, if he should set his mind to carry out the threats made to Hodgson, he would be able to do it.”
The September warning from the Army Reserve followed other warning signs.
An earlier incident report from May, also provided to the Globe on Monday, documents Card’s ex-wife and son describing their concerns about Card’s behavior to an officer with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Department.
The son said that starting around January his father began claiming people were saying things about him out in public. The son “came to the conclusion that Robert was likely hearing voices or starting to experience paranoia,” according to the report.
In a separate interview with the Sagadahoc sheriff’s department, Card’s brother, Ryan Card, also said the mental health troubles had begun early this year, according to an incident report. “[A]ll of Robert’s paranoia/anger started around the same time he got hearing aids” for the first time in February, Ryan Card told the department, according to the report. The report states that mental illness induced by hearing loss is a documented condition.
In the May interview, Card’s ex-wife and son said they were afraid that if Card learned they’d spoken to the police it would “aggravate the situation,” and they asked to stay anonymous, according to the report. They said they would attempt to avoid Card, the report said.
Card’s ex-wife, Cara, said he “recently picked up 10-15 handguns/rifles that had previously been stored at his brother Ryan Card’s house,” according to the report.
‘They have a way to secure his weapons’
After receiving the Army Reserve’s letter about Card, the sheriff’s department sent a deputy to Card’s address to conduct a “wellness check” on Sept. 15, according to the records. But Card wasn’t home, Merry said.
So, later that day, the department issued the “attempt to locate” alert. “Caution officer safety - known to be armed and dangerous,” the alert said. “Robert has been suffering from psychotic episodes & hearing voices. He ... made threats to shoot up the National Guard Armory in Saco. ... If located, use extreme caution.”
The alert, known as a File 6, was sent to every law enforcement agency in Maine, according to Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Its purpose was to instruct other law enforcement officials to keep an eye out for Card, and to tell the Sagadahoc sheriff if they encountered him. But it didn’t grant the authority to detain Card.
File 6 alerts are meant to tell officers, “If you see the guy, stop him, check on his well-being, and be careful,” said Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce. He said officers cannot detain someone based on a File 6 alone.
“This was not a stop and hold” alert, Joyce said.
On the morning of Sept. 16, after sending the File 6 alert, a sheriff’s deputy returned to Card’s home, a trailer on West Road in Bowdoin. When the deputy saw Card’s car in the yard he called for backup, according to an incident report. Then, once a second officer arrived, they approached the trailer, and tried to make contact with Card.
“Card could be heard moving around inside the trailer but would not answer the door,” the deputy wrote in the report. “Due to being in a very [disadvantageous] position we decided to back away.”
That encounter — the deputy hearing Card through the walls of the trailer — may have been the closest that any law enforcement official came to interacting with Card between the Army Reserve’s Sept. 15 warning letter and the shootings nearly six weeks later. No other interaction during that period is recorded in the documents turned over to the Globe.
The next day, Sept. 17, a sheriff’s deputy spoke with Card’s brother, Ryan Card, according to the records. Ryan Card told a sheriff’s deputy that he had taken his brother’s guns and locked them in a family safe, according to an incident report. He said he would try to move the guns elsewhere, where his brother couldn’t access them, according to the report.
Later, Ryan Card contacted the department again and said he and his father “would work to ensure that Robert does not have access to any firearms. They have a way to secure his weapons,” the report said.
A few weeks later, Card walked into a bowling alley in Lewiston holding a rifle to his shoulder, and started shooting.
‘Our hearts are breaking’
The new documents raised questions about whether law enforcement agencies in Maine did enough to track down Card and determine how much of a threat he posed.
Some law enforcement officials said a more urgent type of alert, such as the ones sent to the state’s central information sharing database and go to every officer in the state, may have garnered more attention, but they could not say for sure.
The type of alert issued by the Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Department, a File 6, is relatively common and rarely triggers a special response on its own.
In Lewiston, for example, a spokesperson with the police department told the Globe it receives more than 75 “attempt to locate” alerts daily and only looks closely at ones directly related to the city. The spokesperson, Lieutenant Derrick St. Laurent, said officials there have not yet found the one for Card, but if they got one, it would be buried under hundreds of others.
Scott Stewart, chief of police in Brunswick, a few towns over from Bowdoin, said he remembered getting the September alert. It came through the teletype machine, like nearly all File 6 reports do. He noticed the alert because of its proximity and its reference to the Saco base, which another employee also knew, but he said he did not make any special consideration of the notification since the department receives so many.
“It’s important to note that mental health calls are a large portion of our call volume, so we get a lot of these,” Stewart said. “We take them all serious, but nothing stood out with this more than any other one that we get.”
Stewart said it is natural to look back for things authorities may have missed — something he has been doing himself — but he said law enforcement agencies acted according to the information they had available. He noted that Maine law enforcement takes a uniquely interagency approach and said departments seemed to share what they knew.
“The first thing we’re all going to do is double back, retrace all of our steps: what did we do, did we miss anything?” Stewart said. “But in my opinion, I don’t see that anybody dropped the ball.”
Merry, the Sagadahoc sheriff defended his department’s actions, but also promised to review its policies “with the goal of making any improvements that are in the interest of public safety while balancing the rights of individuals,” he wrote in a cover letter provided with the new documents.
“Our hearts are breaking for the families and friends of the people who were killed and injured,” he wrote.
Globe correspondent Nick Stoico and Christopher Huffaker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Read more coverage:
- A gunman killed 18 people and injured 13 others in Lewiston, Maine. Here’s how the following days unfolded.
- Tears and resolve as communities across Maine offer comfort to residents devastated by shootings
- The Maine mass shooting changed Representative Jared Golden’s mind on assault weapons. Will it change his state?
- Profiles of the lives lost in the Maine mass shootings
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