LEWISTON, Maine – Hundreds of law enforcement agents were urgently scouring communities around Lewiston, Maine, on Thursday for an “armed and dangerous” suspect in two deadly shootings at a bowling alley and a bar as terrified residents huddled in their homes.
Eighteen people were killed and 13 were injured in the Wednesday night rampage, Maine Gov. Janet Mills said at a news conference Thursday morning.
School districts canceled classes and authorities warned residents in and around Lewiston to stay inside and lock their doors as investigators launched a massive search for Robert Card, a 40-year-old firearms instructor and Army reservist, who police identified as the suspect in the case.
At 6:56 p.m. Wednesday, police first got a call about a shooting at the Sparetime Recreation bowling alley, said Maine State Police Col. William Ross at a Thursday news conference. At 7:08 p.m., people reported an active shooter at Schemengees Bar and Grille. Both businesses are in Lewiston, a city of about 38,400 residents about 35 miles north of Portland and about 33 miles southwest of Augusta.
Seven people at the bowling alley were killed, including one female and six males, Ross said. At the bar, eight people, all males, were killed. Over a dozen people were rushed to nearby hospitals, where three died. As of Thursday morning, eight fatal victims have been identified.
A warrant is out for Card’s arrest in connection with the murder of the eight identified individuals, Ross said. Ryan Card, the suspect’s brother, told CNN via text the family is fully cooperating with law enforcement, adding, “There are many people hurting out there, please focus on them. … This is many people’s worst nightmare.”
A vehicle believed to have been driven by Robert Card was found overnight near a boat ramp in Lisbon, about eight miles away from Lewiston, according to Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck. The shelter-in-place order has been extended to the town of Bowdoin and Lisbon while Lewiston and its twin city, Auburn, remained under lockdown Thursday.
Steve Vozzella went to play cornhole at Schemengees Bar and Grille Wednesday night with a group of about 10 other deaf adults, his wife, Megan Vozzella, told USA TODAY. As of Thursday morning, she had not heard from her husband.
“I am so overwhelmed and angry at the shootings,” Vozzella, who is also deaf, said on Facebook Messenger.
Card, at the time of the shooting, was a sergeant first class in the Army Reserve, according to the Army. He enlisted in December 2002 and had no combat deployments. His military specialty is petroleum supply, and he has received several awards, including a Humanitarian Service Medal.
Two surveillance photos on a Facebook post by local law enforcement showed a person police believe to be Card walking into a bowling alley with a rifle raised to his shoulder.
A state police bulletin circulated Wednesday said Card had been trained as a firearms instructor at a U.S. Army Reserve training facility in Maine and had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this summer. The bulletin did not provide specific details about his treatment or condition.
In mid-July, Card was taken by police for an evaluation after military officials became concerned that he was acting erratically, The Associated Press reported, citing a U.S. official.
CNN reported that Card’s sister-in-law, Katie O’Neill, told the network the Wednesday rampage was “an acute episode. This is not who he is. He is not someone who has had mental health issues for his lifetime or anything like that.”
With no word from her husband, who was at Schemengees Bar and Grille on Wednesday night, Megan Vozzella told USA TODAY on Thursday that she expects the worst and is waiting to see his body. Police have not publicly released the names of the deceased they have been able to identify.
“It has to stop with this world,” she said, referring to the deadly attacks.
At Sparetime, an evening of joy between parents and youths as part of a children’s bowling league quickly turned to horror. Zoey Levesque, 10, who was at the alley with her mother, told WMTW-TV she was grazed by a bullet. “It’s scary,” she said. “I had never thought I’d grow up and get a bullet in my leg. And it’s just like, why? Why do people do this?”
On its Facebook, the bowling alley released a statement, saying: “None of this seems real, but unfortunately it is. We are devastated for our community and our staff. We lost some amazing and whole hearted people from our bowling family and community last night.”
“There are no words to fix this or make it better,” the statement continued. “We are praying for everyone who has been affected by this horrific tragedy. We love you all and hold you close in our hearts.”
President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered the flags at the White House, public buildings, embassies, military posts and naval stations to fly at half-staff “as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence,” a White House statement said.
Biden on Wednesday night spoke with Maine Gov. Janet Mills and other public officials about the shootings and “offered full federal support in the wake of this horrific attack.”
Vice President Kamala Harris pointed out Thursday that gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death among children in the U.S., and said Americans don’t have to choose between supporting the Second Amendment and passing common-sense gun safety laws.
“Congress can and must make background checks universal,” she said in a statement. “Pass red flag laws. Ban high-capacity magazines. And renew the assault weapons ban.”
Billie Jayne Cooke, who is running for City Council, was at a candidates’ forum Wednesday night when gunfire broke out.
Bates College nearby went on lockdown, and a parent-teacher conference night ended suddenly. It wasn’t until she got home to the Inn at the Agora in Lewiston, which she owns, that Cooke realized the small city where she’s lived for five years would never be the same.
“I said something on Facebook like, ‘It’s a matter of when, not if, and our when just happened now,” Cooke told USA TODAY. “It’s horrible, it’s horrific.”
Lewiston is a small city, and she’s certain some emergency responders would have come upon people they knew who’d been killed or injured.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you, and I thank God it didn’t happen to me,” she said. “But I know people who’ve lived here their whole lives, and they will are waiting to see who died last night because we will all know people who did.”
− Phaedra Trethan
Public schools across Lewiston, Lisbon, Auburn and Portland were closed Thursday as were municipal offices in Lewiston. The class cancellations also extended to Bates College, a private liberal arts school in Lewiston.
“There remains a lot of unknowns at this time. Information moves quickly but not always accurately,” Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais said in a statement on the district’s website. “Please continue to shelter in place or get to safety. We will continue to update you with information and next steps
Diana Florence, 53, said her son, a sophomore at Bates College, has been on lockdown in his dorm room. When Bates students and faculty received the emergency order to shelter in place, Florence’s son was already in his dorm.
“He closed the blinds, and unfortunately, because we live in a world where this is a sadly become normalized, he knew to stay away from the windows,” she said.
Florence said this is the second time one of her children was put under lockdown after a shooting. Her daughter, a senior at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, had to hunker down after the shooting at her campus in August.
“This is unacceptable and it has to stop. I’m extremely upset,” Florence said. “This is about laws needing to be changed so that our kids and all of us don’t have to continually have a groundhog day experience of continuing the same protocol over and over.”
Wednesday’s shooting forced the postponement of a celebration of Bates College’s new leader, Gary Jenkins, the first Black president in the school’s 168-year history, and also its first gay president. Jenkins wrote in a message to the college community, where classes have been canceled through Friday, that planned events for the inauguration are on hold.
“Given the tragedy and the current circumstances, we have decided to postpone all inauguration events until a later date and keep our focus on dealing with the ongoing emergency,” Jenkins wrote on the college website.
− Cybele Mayes-Osterman and Nirvi Shah
Central Maine Healthcare on Thursday said that it’s closing all physician offices in several communities, including Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon and Portland, according to an announcement on its website.
Armed police officers on Wednesday and Thursday posted outside Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Shortly after the shooting, the hospital announced it was “reacting to a mass casualty, mass shooter event” and was coordinating with area hospitals to take in patients.
The Maine Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center in Portland, alerted on-call staff and created critical care and operating room capacity in preparation for potential patients from the shooting, the hospital said in a statement.
Allen Smith co-owns the Forage Market on 180 Lisbon Street, right in between where the two shootings happened Wednesday night. Staff often visit the bowling alley for outings and Smith told USA TODAY on Thursday that he’s hurt by how the shooting has affected the community.
The Lewiston location is closed Thursday while the cafe’s Portland market remains open. But Smith said that could change.
Neither of his shops were open during the nighttime shooting, but he said his family locked their doors, “which we almost never do,” and called friends and family.
He said the shooting has rocked the tight-knit community where he said people are almost always one degree of connection away from one another. But through the community’s pain, he said people are reaching out and caring for one another.
“A lot of shared concern, camaraderie and messaging for people being OK and general concerns for people who’ve lost others.”
− Krystal Nurse
In photos released by Maine authorities, a man is shown carrying a rifle with what appears to be a long magazine, or multiple magazines attached.
That image suggests the gunman may have “coupled” or taped two rifle magazines together, nicknamed “jungle style” by G.I.s in Vietnam, experts say.
The tactic was popularized after WWII and in Vietnam, where soldiers would use tape or bicycle inner-tubes to couple two magazines of ammunition together. Generally, the technique is used to decrease reload times in tactical situations, said Travis Pike, a firearms expert and NRA firearms instructor. He wrote about the history of coupling for GunMag Warehouse.
“It allows you to have ammo on the gun in the event you don’t have load bearing gear,” Pike told USA TODAY.
Other mass shooters have use taped magazines, including Robert Hawkins in the 2007 Westroads Mall shooting. He used a Century WASR-10 with two 30-round magazines taped together. A search warrant tied to Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, also located shotgun magazines taped together.
Despite the low-tech tactic, some gear manufacturers have started adding “coupler” features to their magazines so they can be affixed together.
– Nick Penzenstadler
Gabrielle Hathaway and Paul Englehart can see Sparetime Recreation from the back window of their home. Hathaway said she often walks with her son to the bowling alley to spend time with friends and other families there. They also frequent Schemengees Bar and Grille.
The pair were home Wednesday when they said they got a flood of messages from neighbors and then heard sirens. “When you hear all the ambulances, and then they fade,” Englehart said. “And then all of a sudden you hear them really loud again … they’re coming back.”
Hathaway said her son came from his bedroom and said he had an alert on his tablet about an active shooter. They were unnerved when they woke up and realized a suspect was still on the run.
Englehart, the director of ballooning for the annual Great Falls Balloon Festival, said he’s prepared to embrace community members who have lost loved ones in Wednesday’s shooting. He said he’s also sympathetic to first responders and medical workers coping with the tragedy.
“Everyone needs to remember these law enforcement officers that just saw this. They’ve got to go home,” Englehart said. “We need to be here for them.”
− Max Sullivan
Maine is a state with much looser gun laws than peer northeastern states. Gun control advocates quickly pointed out that the state does not have a red flag law to temporarily seize firearms for those in crisis amid other restrictions.
Likewise, the state does not extend any background check requirements beyond what is federally required for unlicensed gun sales.
Giffords, a gun violence prevention group, gave the state an “F” in its annual scorecard this year with no significant new gun legislation passed.
The state does not ban assault-style weapons, large capacity magazines, and has no permitting requirements to carry concealed firearms or open carry a firearm.
The state is known as a “shall-issue” permitless carry state. Anyone 21 and over or 18 and over who is active or honorably discharged from the military, who can legally possess a firearm, can openly or concealed carry.
Maine has relatively few gun deaths. About 178 people died from gun violence in 2022. Reported violent crime rates in Maine in 2022 were the lowest they’ve been since 1979, according to the FBI.
– Nick Penzenstadler
In April, a man fatally shot his parents and a couple in their Bowdoin, Maine, home and barn. He then fled to a nearby interstate, where he fired at passing cars and hit three members of another family.
Since 2006, more than 560 mass killings have been reported in the United States, according to a database kept by USA TODAY, The Associated Press, and Northeastern University. Over that time span, at least 2,900 people died.
“No American should leave their home and fear becoming the victim of a mass shooting, but tonight, Maine families are grieving from this untold loss of life,” said Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention organization Brady.
Lewiston is the second most populous city in Maine and sits between Portland and the state’s capital Augusta. As of 2022, over 38,400 residents live in the city, which emerged as a major center for African immigration into Maine. The area of Lewiston has roots that date to the 17th century, where it later grew from a small town to a thriving mill city.
The city prides itself on being a place of opportunity, according to the Lewiston city website. Lewiston is also home to one the largest French-speaking populations in the United States and is the epicenter for Maine’s Franco-American heritage, according to the state’s office of tourism.
“Vibrant and culturally diverse with a strong sense of community, Lewiston delivers affordable, accessible and abundant opportunity,” the Lewiston city website states.
Contributing: Claire Thornton, Camille Fine, Tom Vanden Brook