A Mass Shooting that Could Have Been Prevented

A mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, involved a mentally ill shooter with known warning signs, underscoring the necessity for improved mental health care and stricter gun control measures.
Maine mass shooting memorial. Photo credit: Independent.

Our nation heard the horrific news of yet another mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. The shooter had killed 18 people and wounded 13 more at a bowling alley and a bar in Maine’s second-largest city. The shooter remained elusive for two days until he was found dead by law enforcement officials. It’s disturbing that Robert Card was identified as a “person of interest” just four hours after the shooting. In other words, he was known well enough to deduce that he could have been the individual who committed such an atrocity.

Robert Card’s Troubling Profile: A Mass Shooter’s History

Robert Card had a history of mental illness and an array of weapons. Both law enforcement and the military knew of his potential for violence, and yet he was permitted to own guns capable of committing a mass shooting. Why did he have guns at all?

As we have previously discussed in several of my posts, most mass shooters have a history of warning signs of instability, potential violence, and may be capable of creating a tragedy. “This is the clearest-cut case I’ve seen where an extreme risk protection order could have saved all these lives,” said Mark Collins, federal policy director at the gun-violence prevention group Brady, referring to measures often called “ red flag” laws, which Maine does not have. “This guy did everything short of taking out a front-page ad in the newspaper saying he was going to commit an atrocity,” Collins said.

Card and other members of the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Unit were in New York for training on July 15 when he accused several of them of calling him a pedophile, shoved one of them, and locked himself in his motel room. The next morning, he told another soldier that he wanted people to stop talking about him.

Warning Signs and Missed Opportunities

The U.S. Army reservist spent time in a psychiatric facility in New York this summer and he reportedly blamed fellow military officials for his hospitalization, according to a letter an unidentified member of the unit wrote to a Maine sheriff’s deputy. Card threatened to shoot up the Army reserve drill center in Saco, Maine, and other places, and said that he was going to get “them.”

After Card left the psychiatric facility in early August, the Army directed that while on duty, he shouldn’t be allowed to have a weapon, handle ammunition, or participate in live-fire activity. It also declared him to be non-deployable.

Several weeks after his release from the hospital, on Sept. 15, a deputy was sent to visit Card’s home in Bowdoin, about 10 miles southeast of Lewiston, for a wellness check. A deputy went to Card’s trailer but couldn’t find him. The sheriff’s office then sent out a statewide alert seeking help locating Card. It included a warning that he was known to be “armed and dangerous,” and that officers should use extreme caution.

On Sept. 16, the same deputy and another one returned to Card’s trailer. Card’s car was there and the deputy said he could hear him moving around the trailer, but no one answered the door, according to the deputy’s report. Deputies didn’t have legal authority to press the case if Card didn’t open the door, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said Wednesday. On Oct. 18, the sheriff’s office canceled a statewide alert seeking help locating Card.

One week later the tragic shooting occurred. It is clear how predictable it was that Robert Card was high risk for a mass shooting. The warning signs were all there. He avoided law enforcement. He was sought after and then dropped from the search. I wonder how many individuals should be under mental health care who are dangers to society, are well hidden from law enforcement, and able to secure weapons that can create this kind of destruction.

Preventing Future Atrocities

We must have systems of care that are attuned to individuals like Robert Card. We not only need ways to prevent them from possessing guns, but we also need to develop programs that can maintain long-term funding for care that will help them deal with the anger, angst, misconceptions, and delusions they have that are illusory.

These alarming symptoms, if not dealt with, will continue to lead to this kind of atrocity when they could have been prevented. The loss of lives is tragic for all the families affected. We must make changes and be vigilant to take seriously our mental health crisis in America.

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