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Maine police were alerted weeks ago about shooter’s threats

Maine police were alerted weeks ago about shooter’s threats

Police across Maine were alerted just last month to “veiled threats” by the U.S. Army reservist who would go on to carry out the worst mass shooting in the state’s history, one of a string of missed red flags that preceded the massacre.

Two local law enforcement chiefs told The Associated Press that a statewide awareness alert was sent in mid-September to be on the lookout for Robert Card after the firearms instructor made threats against his base and fellow soldiers. After stepped-up patrols of the base and a visit to Card’s home — neither of which turned up any sign of him — they moved on.

“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 Card trained.

Maine Shooting

A hazmat team cleans steps Sunday at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston, Maine.

Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, whose jurisdiction includes Card’s home in Bowdoin, said the Army Reserve tipped his department in September to the reservist’s threats, and the sheriff sent the awareness alert to every law enforcement agency in the state after his deputy came back empty-handed from a welfare check to Card’s home.

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“We couldn’t locate him,” Merry said, adding he couldn’t recall if there was any follow-up.

Military officials declined to comment further about Card, specifically whether the threats relayed to the sheriff in September were new or the same ones Card made during an Army reserve training exercise near West Point, New York, in July. That’s when police say Card was committed to a mental health facility for two weeks after acting erratically and “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.

Maine Shooting

Members of the New Apostolic Church pray at a makeshift memorial Sunday outside a bowling alley, the site of one of this past week’s mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine.

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 Wednesday night, killing 18 people and wounding 13 more. After an intensive two-day search, Card was found dead Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at a recycling center in Lisbon Falls.

For many residents, Sunday was a day to reflect, mourn and, for some, to take the first tentative steps toward normalcy.

Maine Shooting

Pam Rousseau, center, and other worshippers pray Sunday during a service at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.

But there were still reminders.

At Schemengees Bar & Grille, one of the shooting sites, workers in white hazmat suits could be seen methodically cleaning up a staircase. Yellow tape surrounded the site and a small memorial had emerged near the bar, featuring colorful balloons, flowers and a poster that read: “Be Strong Lewiston.”

The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf opened worship at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston with a moment of silence. Then, he told the congregation that it was good to be able to finally pray together after days of lockdown imposed while police searched for Card.

APTOPIX Maine Shooting

People gather at a vigil Sunday for the shooting victims outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.

Later Sunday, more than 1,000 people gathered for a vigil at the church to remember those killed and injured, some putting their heads in their hands as the 18 names of those who died were read. Others quietly wept.

Hundreds more watched a livestream of the vigil shown on a huge screen in front of the church. Some held American flags and others had lit candles in cups marked with the names of the dead and injured.

At Lisbon Falls Baptist Church, church members warmly greeted one another but the atmosphere turned somber when the Rev. Brian Ganong brought up the tragedy. He prayed for those fighting for their lives, those who lost family and friends, first responders and medical workers, and others — including the Card family, who he said had ties to some members of the church.

“It did happen. We may never know the reason why,” he said.

Maine Shooting

Django, a crisis response dog, enjoys adoration Sunday while helping to bring healing at Halloween event in Auburn, Maine.

Despite the earlier threats, the FBI said Saturday that Card had not been on its radar, telling AP it “did not have nor did it receive any tips or information concerning Robert Card.” 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.”

Card’s case stands as a glaring example of missed red flags, with many unanswered questions about what the military, police, mental health professionals and relatives could have done to prevent the massacre.

While Maine does not have a red flag law, it does have a more limited ” yellow-flag ” law that would still allow police to petition a judge to take a person’s firearms away if a medical practitioner deems that person to be a threat.

Maine Shooting

Mourners embrace Sunday at a vigil for the shooting victims at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.

Saco police Chief Clements defended his department’s response to the alert about Card, which he described as “generic.” He noted his department gets many such alerts and his officers gave this one its due attention, keeping an eye on the base for any sign of Card.

“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.”

The New York State Police on July 16 was called in West Point by commanders of the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment with concerns about Card’s erratic behavior and “threats to other members of his military unit” during a training exercise, according to a state police document obtained by AP. Troopers took Card, a sergeant 1st class, to the Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point for what would be two weeks of mental health evaluation.

New York State Police declined to comment to the AP on the case and did not respond to a request for reports or possible body-camera footage of their interactions with Card.

Maine Shooting

People gather at a vigil Sunday for the shooting victims outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine.

Jonathan Crisp, an army lawyer for two decades before starting a criminal defense practice, said when soldiers are committed involuntarily to mental health facilities by others in the chain of command, it is a “reportable” event under Army regulations that triggers a requirement to alert others. A provost marshal enters the incident into a military database that puts the FBI on notice so it can enter the name into a background list of people prevented from buying weapons.

“If they took him and he didn’t want to go and he refused to be admitted, it’s a slam dunk,” Crisp said. “This should have been reported.”

But Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said in news conference Saturday that while Card had a history of mental illness, there was no evidence he had ever been involuntarily committed.