Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Just-In-Time Recreation, a recently renamed bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, because information provided by police was incorrect.
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.
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 Army reservist, who police identified as the suspect in the case. Lockdowns extended as far as 50 miles away from the shooting sites.
A warrant is out for Card’s arrest in connection with the murder of the eight identified individuals, Maine State Police Col. William Ross said at a Thursday news conference. 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.”
At 6:56 p.m. Wednesday, police first got a call about a shooting at a bowling alley known as Sparetime Recreation, Ross said. 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, recently renamed Just-In-Time Recreation, 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, eight fatal victims have been identified.
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.
While authorities have not released the victims’ names, loved ones have been confirming their deaths.
A volunteer youth bowling coach who was known for encouraging children and a bar manager whose father said tried to confront the gunman were among the 18 people killed on Wednesday.
“The senseless tragedy last night has really affected our community and certainly, my heart goes out to the victims and their families,” Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline said on CNN Thursday night.
— Minnah Arshad and Vanessa Arredondo
Most law enforcement officers and a helicopter that had surrounded the home connected to a relative of Card near rural Bowdoin, Maine, left the residence Thursday night after executing a search warrant. Authorities had visited the home twice on Thursday. Several police cars had blocked off a dimly lit winding, wooded road near the home and around 6:30 p.m., a convoy of a dozen police vehicles left the area.
Heavily armed officers later returned and called for a person or people inside to surrender. Officers asked media crews to turn off their lights and residents in the area were also told to shelter-in-place.
“You need to come outside now with nothing in your hands. Your hands in the air,” officers shouted outside the home.
Dave Letarte, a neighbor of the suspect’s parents, couldn’t get to his house because of the police lockdown at the scene.
“His father and his younger brother Ryan had been trying to get him help but has been having trouble,” he said. “What the problem was I don’t know.”
Maine Department of Public Safety spokesperson Shannon Moss told USA TODAY that law enforcement officials were executing several search warrants.
“It is unknown whether Robert Card is in any of the homes law enforcement will search,” Moss said in an email. “Law enforcement officials are simply doing their due diligence by tracking down every lead in an effort to locate and apprehend Card.”
Richard Goddard, who lives on the road where the searches were taking place, told the Associated Press that he knows the Card family and that Robert knows the terrain well.
“This is is his stomping ground. He grew up here. He knows every ledge to hide behind, every thicket,” he said.
— Karissa Waddick, USA TODAY, and Patrick Cronin, USA TODAY Network
Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque told CNN on Thursday night that the manhunt is a “fluid and dynamic situation.”
Auburn is home to over 24,000 people and is a twin city of Lewiston — separated by a river of about 100 yards, Levesque said. The city had been under a shelter-in-place order for 24 hours and officials have been focusing on providing resources for the community, including victims and their families.
“This community is tight,” Levesque said on CNN. “The bowling alley that we all go to is in Lewiston, the restaurant that we love to go to is there as well. We all are touched — we all know someone.”
Levesque advised residents to persevere and to stay vigilant.
At a news conference Thursday night, state and local officials reminded residents that the shelter-in-place order remained in effect. Law enforcement officials did not provide any new updates on the search for Card but advised the communities of Lewiston and nearby areas to stay safe.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins called it a “dark day.”
“This heinous attack, which has robbed the lives of at least 18 Mainers and injured so many more, (is the) worst mass shooting that the state of Maine has ever experienced — and could ever imagine,” she said at the news conference.
Collins and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who represents the Lewiston area, both called for more gun control laws. Golden said his past opposition to assault-weapon bans was a misjudgment and that he had had “a false confidence that our community was above this.”
“I have opposed calls to ban deadly weapons of war, like the assault rifle used to carry out this crime,” Golden said. “The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure, which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing.”
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.
The Army said in a statement that Card’s unit assisted in the summer training program provided at its academy in West Point, New York, in July, but “there are no records to indicate he instructed or participated in any training. The Army did not train (Sergeant First Class) Card as a firearms instructor, nor did he serve in that capacity for the Army.”
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 committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this summer after “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.
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.”
Officials at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston said eight people injured in the shooting remained at their facility Thursday afternoon, three in critical condition and five stable.
The chief medical officer, Dr. John Alexander, said the hospital staff was trained to provide this level of care even though it’s rarely necessary. “It’s unprecedented in terms of the severity of the injuries and the tragedy to the community,” he said.
Billy Brackett, 48, was at Schmengees Bar and Grill on Wednesday evening with a few other deaf adults who met weekly to play cornhole and darts, his father, William Brackett, told USA TODAY.
William Brackett said he called his son as soon as he saw reports of a shooting at the bar on television. But he has yet to hear from him and fears he was killed. “I kept calling him and calling him and calling him and never got an answer,” said Brackett, 80.
Brackett said he called local hospitals searching for his son and has been unable to go inside the facilities to look for him. “I can’t even go get his truck,” Brackett said. “That’s the kind of thing that does not happen in the state of Maine. It always happens someplace else.”
With no word from her husband, who was also at Schemengees on Wednesday night, Megan Vozzella told USA TODAY she expects the worst and is waiting to see his body. Police have not publicly released the names of the deceased they’ve identified.
“It has to stop with this world,” she said, referring to the deadly attacks
At the bowling alley still known by locals as 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?”
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,” the White House said.
Biden also urged residents of the search area to follow police warnings, and he said in a statement: “Far too many Americans have now had a family member killed or injured as a result of gun violence. That is not normal, and we cannot accept it.”
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.”
Card’s vehicle was found by a boat launch near the Androscoggin River, and the whereabouts of his 15-foot boat are unknown, according to Chief Petty Officer Ryan Smith of the Coast Guard’s Boothbay Harbor Station. The Coast Guard sent a patrol boat to waters in the area Thursday morning − “doing our due diligence,” Smith said − but did not find anything noteworthy.
It’s possible Card escaped in a different land vehicle and has traveled hundreds of miles from Lewiston. The Canada Border Services Agency has alerted its officers along the border with the U.S. to be on the lookout for the armed suspect.
Lewiston is about 160 miles southwest of the border with New Brunswick, Canada. CBSA said Canadian and U.S. officials are working together to “protect Canada’s borders against any threat or attempt at illegal entry.”
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.
Hannah Orton, a senior at Bates, left hockey practice at a rink in Lewiston not far from the shooting just after the news broke. “My team and I, not thinking it was very serious, went to the dining holiday for dinner, and that’s where went on lockdown. I was there until 5 a.m.,” she told USA TODAY.
Wednesday’s shooting forced the postponement of a celebration of Bates College’s new leader, Garry 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 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 the bowling alley 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 has 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 or large-capacity magazines, and it has no permitting requirements to carry concealed firearms or open carry a firearm.
Maine is known as a “shall-issue” permit-less 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, at least 2,900 people died and at least 2,000 have been injured.
And Wednesday’s shooting in Lewiston was the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to the database. Of those killings — which are defined as incidents in which four or more people have died, not including the killer, within a 24-hour period — at least 190 people have died.
So far this year, the nation has seen the second-highest number on record of mass killings and deaths in a single year — following 2019.
“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, USA TODAY; The Associated Press