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Maine governor launches independent commission to probe Lewiston mass shootings

Governor Janet MillsErin Clark/Globe Staff

See the Globe’s complete coverage of the Maine shootings.

Maine Governor Janet T. Mills said she will establish an independent commission to investigate the Lewiston mass shootings, which killed 18 people, as well as the months leading up to the rampage when authorities were warned about the gunman’s declining mental health and previous threats to use his weapons to harm others.

The commission looking into Robert R. Card II, whose body was found two days after he perpetrated the state’s deadliest shootings, will be composed of “legal, investigative, and mental health” experts who Mills said will probe “what more could have been done to prevent this tragedy from occurring.”

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“A cornerstone of the ability to heal is to know the truth — in this case, the facts of what happened on that tragic night, of the months that led up to it, and of the police response to it,” Mills said in a statement Wednesday, hours before the White House announced that President Biden would travel to Lewiston on Friday to pay respect to the victims, visit with families, and meet with first responders.

The governor’s announcement followed a flurry of revelations that the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office had been aware well before the shootings that Card was committed to a psychiatric hospital by the Army after becoming increasingly paranoid, and that his family had warned authorities of Card’s stockpile of weapons.

The US Army Reserve warned Sagadahoc Sheriff Joel Merry’s office in September in a set of desperate text messages and a letter from an Army Reserve training supervisor that Card had descended into severe mental illness.

The new documents, obtained by the Globe this week through a public records request, show the gravity of the concerns relayed to the sheriff’s office in the months before Card opened fire at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston.

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In one text sent at 2:04 a.m. in September to Army Reserve training supervisor Kelvin L. Mote — and later forwarded to the sheriff’s office — one of Card’s fellow reservists urged the supervisor to change the passcode to the unit gate, where weapons were being stored.

His fellow reservist, identified in the text only as Hodgson, wrote of Card: “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

“Please,” the reservist wrote. “I believe he’s messed up in the head . . . I’m afraid he’s going to [expletive] up his life from hearing things he thinks he heard.”

The reservist ultimately sent four separate texts, begging Mote to help. He wrote that Card was still in possession of weapons.

“I love [him] to death but i do not know how to help him and he refuses to get help or to continue help,” Hodgson wrote of Card. “And yes he still has all of his weapons.”

The texts were referenced in an even more detailed letter sent to the sheriff’s office from the Army Reserve. In the letter, which reached the sheriff’s department after what is described as months of tumultuous and alarming behavior by Card, the unnamed author wrote that Card told Hodgson he had “guns and is going to shoot up the drill center at Saco and other places.”

“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 letter’s author wrote.

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Further documents released to news media this week show the first time the Sagadahoc sheriff’s office became aware of Card’s mental state was in May, when his ex-wife and 18-year-old son told them 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.

In July, three months before the shootings, Card was committed to psychiatric facilities for two weeks after he made veiled threats of violence to fellow reservists when they were in New York for training exercises, according to documents and an interview with a hospital spokesperson.

The warnings from the Army Reserve prompted the sheriff’s office to make two wellness checks on Sept. 15 and Sept. 16 at Card’s Bowdoin residence, but they failed to make contact with him, records show. They also issued an “attempt to locate” alert to other law enforcement agencies across the state — a type of notice that, authorities said, is mostly used for missing persons and is not issued to detain dangerous individuals.

“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.”

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Despite concerns, and the sheriff’s office’s failure to make contact with Card during two wellness checks, the sheriff agreed to allow Card’s family to attempt to take away his weapons, rather than having law enforcement officials directly intervene, the documents show.

“We believe that our agency acted appropriately and followed procedures for conducting an attempt to locate and wellness check,” Merry said in a statement, adding that his office will evaluate its procedures for conducting wellness checks.

Mills on Wednesday said she would be working with state Attorney General Aaron Frey to assemble the new commission looking into law enforcement’s work leading up to and after the shootings. Mills did not say when the commission’s findings would be made public.

“I know that the Maine State Police are working hard to conduct a thorough and comprehensive criminal investigation of the shooting, but I also believe that the gravity of this attack on our people — an attack that strikes at the core of who we are and the values we hold dear — demands a higher level of scrutiny,” Mills said.


Samantha J. Gross can be reached at samantha.gross@globe.com. Follow her @samanthajgross. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.