Massive Manhunt across Maine for Accused Killer of 18 People

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post
Law enforcement personnel block a road as they search a house in Bowdoin, Maine, near the city where a gunman killed at least 18 people at a bar and a bowling alley.

LEWISTON, Maine – Scores of law enforcement officers joined a massive manhunt Thursday for a gunman accused of killing at least 18 people in a rampage at a bowling alley and a bar, forcing a region to shelter in place and spreading terror across southern Maine.

With the shooter still at large, teams of federal agents and other law enforcement personnel from around the Northeast and elsewhere converged on the area, racing down roads with sirens blaring as they pursued potential leads.

State police said the 40-year-old suspect, an Army reservist named Robert Card, opened fire just before 7 p.m. Wednesday at Just-in-Time Recreation, a bowling alley in Lewiston.

At 7:08 p.m., 911 calls alerted police to an active shooter inside Schemengees Bar and Grille, about four miles away from the bowling alley. Eight people were killed at the bar and seven at the bowling alley, authorities said Thursday. Three others died at local hospitals.

Wednesday’s violence was the deadliest shooting in the country this year and sits near the top of a grim tally: Only nine other shootings have killed more victims since the 1960s.

Investigators suspect that the shooter used a large-caliber rifle, two people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that had not been made public. The information gathered so far suggests the weapon was purchased legally, one of the people said.

Police have not discussed any motive behind the killings. Card spent two weeks over the summer receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment after he made threats against his reserve unit, according to a person familiar with the initial findings who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe an ongoing investigation.

In Lewiston, a gritty city of nearly 40,000 people on the banks of the Androscoggin River, there was shock and grief as residents struggled to understand how a night of bowling or playing pool could end in mass killing.

“This city did not deserve this terrible assault on its citizens,” said Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D). “No city does.”

Mills and law enforcement officials described Card as armed and dangerous and warned anyone encountering him not to approach “under any circumstances.” Maine officials also urged residents to comply with shelter-in-place orders and to report suspicious activity.

Maine State Police Col. William Ross said Thursday morning that Card had been charged with eight counts of murder, which matches the number of victims identified at that time. The number of murder charges probably will rise to match the total number of people killed Wednesday night, Ross said.

Law enforcement officials have found evidence indicating the suspected gunman’s life began spiraling out of control over the summer. After Card’s release from the psychiatric facility, it was not clear whether he faced any other consequences as a result of the episode. Maine does not have a “red-flag” law designed to take weapons away from people who are viewed as potentially dangerous to themselves or others.

Card enlisted more than two decades ago and has been serving in the Army Reserve as a petroleum supply specialist, according to records released Thursday by the Army. He has not participated in any combat deployments.

The two shooting sites ravaged on Wednesday night shared at least one thing in common: They were places were people gathered to enjoy themselves.

Riley Dumont’s 11-year-old daughter plays in a youth bowling league. On Wednesday night, Dumont invited her parents to join them, thinking it would be a fun outing for the whole family. Suddenly she heard a series of bangs, like balloons popping.

Some people fled down the bowling lanes and climbed up into the machinery behind the pins. Dumont’s father, a retired police officer, pushed the family into a corner and pulled chairs and tables together in a makeshift barricade. Dumont and her daughter hid behind it.

“I was laying on top of my daughter. My mother was laying on top of me,” Dumont said. “I just remember people sobbing.”

Two best friends – Michael Deslauriers II and Jason Walker – made sure their young children were shielded, then charged the shooter, Deslauriers’s father wrote on Facebook. Both men were both killed, he said.

Stacey Deslauriers, Michael’s former wife, was driving when she got the call. At first she struggled to understand what she was hearing over the sound of police sirens: Her ex-husband of 14 years, the father of her adult children, had died in the bowling alley.

She pulled over, sobbing. She’d known Michael, 51, since she was in elementary school. “He was an amazing man,” she said. “An amazing father. An amazing provider.”

Stacey wasn’t surprised, she said, when Michael’s girlfriend – who had been with him when the gunman stormed the bowling alley – told her that Michael had tried to fight back.

He’d urged her to hide behind the ball rack, she said, before lunging at the attacker. The couple had been bowling with friends next to a children’s league. Michael’s first instinct was to protect the children, Deslauriers said. “He was a hero,” she said. “Truly a hero.”

Four miles away, people had gathered for other everyday activities: to play pool, darts or cornhole over beers at Schemengees in downtown Lewiston. The venue’s motto is “Come for the great food, stay for the good times, cheers.” Wednesday was “industry night,” when employees of bars and or restaurants get 25 percent off. Schemengees was also hosting a cornhole tournament for deaf players that evening.

Justin Karcher was one of the people who came out to have fun, said his mother, Jessica. He was shot four times – in the shoulder, liver, stomach and spinal cord. Jessica rushed to Central Maine Medical Center, where her son was operated on for nearly five hours, she wrote on Facebook. He was in the intensive care unit and breathing on a ventilator as he awaited further surgery. “The doctors told us right now all we can do is pray,” she wrote.

Overnight, an unsigned statement appeared on the Schemengees Facebook page. “My heart is crushed,” it read. “In a split second your world gets turn upside down for no good reason.”

In Maine, a state that is home to just 1.3 million people, the terrifying night was followed by a day frozen in fear. Around 8 p.m. Wednesday, Lewiston residents received alerts on their phones telling them there was an active shooter at large and to shelter in place. Helicopters roared overhead and armored vehicles sped down city streets.

Robert McCarthy, a 66-year-old city council member who lives less than a mile from the bowling alley, said that as the gunman remained at large, he couldn’t sleep. He locked all his doors as authorities urged people to stay home, and he switched on his exterior lights. “I got my wife’s guns,” he said, “and prepared for the worst.”

Never, he said, had he felt like this in Lewiston, where violent crime is rare. Maine counted 17 firearm homicides in the entirety of 2021, the latest crime snapshot shows.

Jeff Mack, who lives nearby on Goddard Road, said that when he heard the news Wednesday night, he immediately locked his doors and called his daughter to find out whether she was safe. He learned she was at a friend’s house in another part of town. “I told her, ‘Stay put, don’t come home.'”

Later, authorities also told people in Lisbon, a town neighboring Lewiston, and in Bowdoin, a town about 12 miles away, to shelter in place. With the manhunt still on, dozens of schools, from kindergartens to universities, shut down on Thursday. That also included all public schools in Portland, Maine’s largest city, about 30 miles south of Lewiston.

L.L. Bean, the century-old outdoors-goods retailer, closed its flagship store in Freeport, corporate headquarters, factories and other facilities in Maine on Thursday, as authorities continued their manhunt. “Our priority is, and will remain, the health and safety of our employees and customers,” the company said in a Facebook post.

Over the course of a day, Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline went from sparring with city council members over solutions for the city’s unhoused to fighting back tears in national television interviews and consoling families of the dead.

Sheline said he had received phone calls and messages of support from dozens of mayors across the country, including many who have dealt with the aftermath of mass killings. Sheline said he never imagined Lewiston would join this bleak American fraternity.

“It’s difficult to find words,” he said.

Wednesday night’s shootings have made 2023 one of the deadliest years for mass killings with a gun since 2006, according to data compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, and analyzed by The Washington Post. The Post defines a mass killing as four or more dead, not including the assailant.

At least 180 people have been killed this year in mass killings with a gun – just shy of the 186 deaths recorded in 2022, the deadliest year on record, according to the data.

Wednesday’s violence in Lewiston is the second mass killing in Maine this year. The first occurred in April, and involved a man who allegedly shot and killed his parents and two of their friends in a Bowdoin residence. He fled and then fired at vehicles, injuring three people.

The deadly shootings have brought fresh scrutiny to the relatively loose gun laws in the state, where Democratic lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to pass tougher requirements in the past year despite controlling both chambers of the legislature.

Maine does not require permits to carry concealed guns, nor does it mandate background checks for private gun sales. The state also lacks red-flag laws, which allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have some form of such a law on the books.

President Biden on Thursday called for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and to impose universal background checks before gun purchases.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and his Republican colleagues can end the problem of gun violence in the United States. “They have the ability to stop this,” Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Thursday. “They have the ability to put forth legislation to deal with this issue. They can change this.”

In brief remarks Thursday, Johnson told reporters that “prayer is appropriate in a time like this – that the evil can end and this senseless violence can stop.” He added, “Everyone wants this to end, and I’ll just leave it there.” The speaker walked away as reporters shouted questions, including about whether Congress should take action to prevent gun violence.

Author Stephen King, a Maine resident, responded to the shootings Thursday morning in a pair of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The shootings occurred less than 50 miles from where I live. I went to high school in Lisbon,” King wrote. “It’s the rapid-fire killing machines, people. This is madness in the name of freedom.”

Grayson Lookner, a Democratic member of the Maine House of Representatives who supports stricter gun-control measures, said he believed efforts to pass such legislation in the state earlier this year failed because lawmakers perceived gun violence as relatively rare.

“I think a number of them somehow felt we were immune from this sort of thing,” Lookner said of his colleagues. “But we can’t have that illusion anymore.”