By Zachary Stieber
Family members of Robert Card contacted local law enforcement about the man in the spring, months before he carried out a mass shooting in Maine, a sheriff said on Oct. 30.
Relatives of Mr. Card contacted the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office on May 3, Sheriff Joel Merry said in a statement in response to requests for information about his office’s dealings with Mr. Card and his family.
“The family said that Mr. Card’s mental health had started to decline in January,” Mr. Merry said. “They were concerned for his well-being and said that Mr. Card had access to firearms.”
Mr. Card was part of the U.S. Army Reserve.
A deputy subsequently conveyed the concerns to the reserve’s 3rd Battalion 304 Training Group, and officials with the reserve “assured our office they would ensure that Card received medical attention,” Mr. Merry said. The unit’s sergeant also said he planned to speak with Mr. Card.
In September, the sheriff’s office said the reserve asked it to conduct a wellness check on Mr. Card.
Deputies visited Mr. Card’s home in Bowdoin on Sept. 15, but Mr. Card was not home. They returned on Sept. 16. Despite Mr. Card’s car being there, Mr. Card did not answer the door.
Mr. Card’s unit commander, reached by a deputy, said that Mr. Card no longer had weapons from the reserve, that officials were trying to get Mr. Card treatment, and that he believed it was best to let Mr. Card be, Mr. Merry said.
Mr. Card’s brother told a deputy the following day that he would try to secure any guns to which Mr. Card still had access.
An alert that had been entered by the deputy notifying law enforcement that Mr. Card was armed and dangerous was canceled on Oct. 18, just one week before Mr. Card opened fire at a restaurant and bowling alley in Lewiston.
Eighteen people were left dead and more than a dozen others were injured in the shooting spree, authorities said.
“We believe that our agency acted appropriately and followed procedures for conducting an attempt to locate and wellness check,” Mr. Merry said.
The sheriff said he will review policies on conducting the checks with any changes aimed at balancing public safety and peoples’ rights.
“Our hearts are breaking for the families and friends of the people who were killed and injured,” he said.
The U.S. Army Reserve did not respond to a request for comment on the information the sheriff’s office released.
Law enforcement officers kept an eye out for Mr. Card in September after he made threats against fellow soldiers and the Reserve base in Saco at which he trained, but did not find him, officials said.
“We added extra patrols, we did that for about two weeks. … The guy never showed up,” said Jack Clements, the police chief in Saco, home to the U.S. Army Reserve base where Mr. Card trained.
Mr. Clements defended his department’s response to the alert about Mr. Card, which he described as a “generic thing that came out saying, hey, you know, we’ve had some report that this guy’s made some veiled threats.”
“Never came in contact with this guy, never received any phone calls from the reserve center saying, ‘Hey, we got somebody who was causing a problem,’” he said. “We never got anything.”
Police officials said that Mr. Card was committed to a mental health facility over the summer for two weeks after acting erratically and “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.
Maine has a so-called yellow flag law that lets law enforcement officials ask a judge to force a person to not possess guns or buy new ones, but a medical assessment is required before a request. The process has been utilized 82 times since going into effect in July 2020, state officials said recently.
“It has been effective to this point, and it’s certainly something that we’re always looking at—can we tweak it can we make things better,” Mike Sauschuck, public safety commissioner for Maine, told reporters in a briefing.
Authorities say the 40-year-old Card opened fire with a high-powered rifle on a bowling alley and then a bar in Lewiston on Oct. 25, killing 18 people and wounding 13 more. After an intensive two-day search that put the state on edge, Card was found dead on Oct. 27 from what officials described as a self-inflicted gunshot.
Authorities recovered a multitude of weapons during their search for Mr. Card and believe he had legally purchased his guns, including those recovered in his car and near his body, said Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Boston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He declined to provide specific details about the guns, including their make and model, and wouldn’t say exactly how many were found.
Despite the earlier threats, the FBI has said Mr. Card had not been on its radar. The bureau “did not have nor did it receive any tips or information concerning Robert Card,” it said in a statement. The bureau added that its instant background check system “was not provided with or in possession of any information that would have prohibited Card from a lawful firearm purchase.”
“Just because there appears to be a mental health nexus to this scenario, the vast majority of people with mental health diagnosis will never hurt anybody,” Mr. Sauschuck said.
Another law enforcement agency that came in contact with Mr. Card was the New York State Police, which on July 16 was called in West Point by commanders of the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment with concerns about Mr. Card’s erratic behavior and “threats to other members of his military unit” during a training exercise, according to a State Police document.
Troopers took Mr. Card to a community hospital for what would turn out to be a two-week stay.
What New York State Police did about Mr. Card’s threats is unclear. The agency declined to comment on the case and did not respond to a request for reports or possible body-camera footage of their interactions with Mr. Card. “This is an active investigation, and the New York State Police does not comment on active investigations, nor investigations in which we are not the lead agency,” it said in a statement before Mr. Card was found dead. A state police spokesman refused to comment after the death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.