Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the nature of Robert R. Card II’s hospitalization at a psychiatric hospital in July. To date, no official has said whether Card’s hospitalization was involuntary. The story has been updated, and the Globe regrets the error.
LEWISTON, Maine — The Army reservist who killed 18 people and wounded at least a dozen more last week was hospitalized in New York this summer after exhibiting erratic behavior during training.
After that hospitalization, the Army told Robert R. Card II’s commander that he should not have a weapon, handle ammunition, or participate in live-fire activity while on duty, a public affairs officer told the Globe. However, that order does not appear to have had any effect on Card’s ability to purchase or use guns as a civilian.
In fact, the only reason Card was blocked from buying a suppressor — a device that silences the sound of gunfire — a month after his hospitalization is because Card self-reported the incident on a form required for the purchase.
Had Card not been truthful, there was nothing to stop him from picking up the device at a local gun store. Under federal statute, a legal involuntary commitment could have made Card ineligible to purchase or possess guns. However, it is not known whether Card agreed to be hospitalized.
In the six days since Card open fired on a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston, there have been many questions and criticisms about what authorities could have done to prevent it.
Among the other disclosures: A warning from a reservist in September that Card was “going to snap and commit a mass shooting.” The local sheriff’s department’s failure to make contact with Card during two wellness checks. And that department’s agreement to let Card’s family lock away weapons, rather than having law enforcement officials intervene.
“They missed the boat. It’s as simple as that,” said Leroy Walker Sr., an Auburn city councilor whose son Joseph, the manager of Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston, was killed in the shootings. “They all dropped the ball.”
Card was found dead Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot.
Officials were aware of his potential for violence as early as May, when his ex-wife and then 17-year-old son told the Sagadahoc Sheriff’s Department 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.
Another warning came in July when Card grew agitated, paranoid, and delusional while his unit was stationed at West Point Academy in Cortlandt to train young soldiers. The situation deteriorated to the point where New York State Police were called in to escort Card to the hospital. Physicians there determined he needed further treatment and sent him to another hospital, where he stayed for two weeks.
Two months later, the US Army Reserve warned a Maine sheriff that Card 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.
At least four law enforcement agents — including the sheriff of the county that neighbors Lewiston — served alongside Card in the Third Battalion of the 304th Infantry Regiment during this year of tumult, witnessing him grow increasingly paranoid and contemplate violence, according to police reports.
Christopher Wainwright, the sheriff who oversees Oxford County, and Matthew Noyes, an Androscoggin County deputy, were in the car with Card that July night when he spiraled with paranoia, accusing the men of calling him a pedophile. Over and over, he told the two police officers — and fellow reservists — that he would “take care of it.” The “it” was never clarified, but Card’s mania persisted through the night. His commander Jeremy Reamer — also a police officer, with the Nashua Police Department — alerted police.
The Androscoggin and Oxford county departments did not respond to a request for comment. Reamer referred the Globe to his unit’s public affairs officer.
The hospitalization that resulted from this July episode that Wainwright, Noyes, and Reamer witnessed could have prohibited Card from having or purchasing guns if he was hospitalized involuntarily. Under federal law, any person “committed to a mental institution” is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms, according to Margaret Groban, a former federal prosecutor who teaches gun policy at the University of Maine School of Law.
But the FBI confirmed that it hadn’t received any information barring Card from buying a gun. And Groban said that even if it did, “there’s no mechanism” for seizing those weapons unless law enforcement officers seek a warrant to do so. There is no indication any departments applied for such a warrant, despite the fact that two Maine law enforcement officers personally witnessed Card’s erratic behavior that prompted the July commitment.
Embedded within the incident reports flagging Card’s worrisome behavior is the warning that he was a skilled shooter and firearms instructor. Two separate police reports — from May and September — reference Card’s role as a firearms instructor. One officer said Card “historically instructed soldiers on the use of hand grenades.” Another unit member described him as “one of my senior firearms instructors.”
“He is a capable marksman and, if he should set his mind to carry out the threats . . . he would be able to do it,” wrote a fellow reserve in a letter to law enforcement.
It is unclear if the Army Reserve knew Card was serving in such a capacity within his regiment. A spokesperson told the Globe that a review of Card’s personnel file and training records revealed no documentation to support that he received specialized weapons training. Or that he served as a certified arms instructor. Or had performed these responsibilities on his annual evaluations.
Ed Deveau, who served as the Watertown police chief during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, noted that the Army Reserve, local law enforcement, and gun dealers each had different pieces of the puzzle that could have provided a fuller picture of the threat Card presented.
”We have to recognize that mass shootings are too common,” said Deveau, who retired in 2015. “We have to start sharing information a lot better through a lot of different agencies.”
He said it’s difficult both before and after tragedies to parse through what’s accurate and actionable information, but, “obviously more could have been done.”
In the warrant released Tuesday, which was seeking Card on 18 murder counts, police wrote that family members said Card had a “bad break-up” in February. He had dated someone for a few months after meeting them at a cornhole competition at Schemengee’s, which was having another tournament when Card committed the shootings. Since the breakup, he “had significant weight loss, has been hospitalized for mental health issues, and prescribed medication that he stopped taking.”
A detective wrote that a family member said that Card had targeted businesses that he believed were “broadcasting” a message that he was a pedophile. Card believed that the bar and bowling alley, as well as a local market and nightclub, were all part of this ongoing “conspiracy” against him, according to the document.
The news that Gowell’s Shop ‘n Save had caught Card’s attention shocked Laurie Burgess, the small grocery store’s night supervisor. She has worked there since it opened seven years ago.
”I would have been the first one dead,” said Burgess, who stood by the door as customers entered Tuesday night. She had not been told Gowell’s had come up specifically during past interactions with Card, she said.
About eight people work at the store in the evenings, and around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday a steady stream of customers came into the store. Card lived just a few miles from the Litchfield store, Burgess said, and was a familiar face there. She never interacted with him directly, she said, but had seen him buy a six pack of beer there many times.
Burgess grew up in Lewiston and recognized one of the victims as a frequent shopper at her grocery store. She was dismayed to consider what might have happened.
”It kind of blows my mind,” Burgess said. “I feel like the system failed him in a lot of ways, and everybody involved.”
John Hilliard, Jason Laughlin, and Sarah Ryley of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Read more coverage:
- Five things to know about the gunman in the months leading up to Maine shootings
- A list of times Maine authorities have used the ‘yellow flag’ law in the past
- Involuntary commitments can be a vital lifeline for mental health, but patients’ rights must be considered
- Newly released documents detail timeline ahead of Lewiston, Maine, shootings
Hanna Krueger can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @hannaskrueger. Sean Cotter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him @cotterreporter. Daniel Kool can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @dekool01.