Authorities carried out a multistate search on land and water Thursday for a U.S. Army reservist who they say killed 18 people and wounded 13 in a mass shooting at a bowling alley and bar that sent panicked patrons scrambling under tables and behind bowling pins and gripped the entire state of Maine in fear.
Schools, doctor’s offices and grocery stores closed and people stayed behind locked door in cities as far away as 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the scenes of Wednesday night’s shootings in Lewiston.
President Joe Biden ordered all U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff as condolences poured in from around the nation and at home, including from Maine native and author Stephen King, who called it “madness.” The attacks stunned a state of only 1.3 million people that has one of the country’s lowest homicide rates: 29 killings in all of 2022.
The shooting suspect, Robert Card, is considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached, authorities said at a news conference. Card underwent a mental health evaluation in mid-July after he began acting erratically during training, a U.S. official told The Associated Press.
Police said they have had no reported sightings of Card since the shootings at Schemengees Bar and Grille and at Sparetime Recreation, a bowling alley about 4 miles (6 kilometers) away. The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office released two photos of the suspect walking into the bowling alley with a rifle raised to his shoulder.
A telephone number listed for Card in public records was not in service.
Eight murder warrants were issued for Card, 40, after authorities identified eight of the victims, police said. Ten more will likely be issued once the names of the rest of the dead are confirmed, said Maine State Police Col. William Ross.
Three of the 13 people wounded in the shootings were in critical condition and five were hospitalized but stable, Central Maine Medical Center officials said.
The attack started at Sparetime, where a children’s bowling league was taking place, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday. One bowler, who identified himself only as Brandon, said he heard about 10 shots, thinking the first was a balloon popping.
“I had my back turned to the door. And as soon as I turned and saw it was not a balloon — he was holding a weapon — I just booked it,” he told the AP.
Brandon said he scrambled down the length of the alley, sliding into the pin area and climbing up to hide in the machinery.
“I was putting on my bowling shoes when it started. I’ve been barefoot for five hours,” he said.
Less than 15 minutes later, numerous 911 calls started coming in from Schemengees, which was offering 25% discounts to customers who work in the bar or restaurant industry.
Patrick Poulin was supposed to be at the bowling center with his 15-year-old son, who is in a league that was practicing Wednesday. They stayed home, but he estimates there were probably several dozen young bowlers, ages 4 to 18, along with their parents, in the facility. Poulin’s brother was there, he said, and shepherded some of the children outside when the shooting began.
“He’s pretty shook up,” Poulin said Thursday. “And it’s just sinking in today, like, wow, I was very close to being there. And a lot of the people that got hurt, I know.”
Poulin said the shooting was especially personal to him because bowling has been part of his life since his parents took him along as a baby.
“It’s absolutely devastating, it really is. It’s scary. You go places, you expect to be safe,” he said. “The last thing I ever thought would happen at that place is what happened.”
April Stevens lives in the same neighborhood where one of the shootings took place. She turned on all her lights overnight and locked her doors. She knew someone killed at the bar and another person injured who needed surgery.
“I’m still working because I can work from home. My husband canceled his jobs today to stay home with me. We’re praying for everyone,” Stevens said through tears.
Authorities launched a multistate search for Card on land and water. The Coast Guard sent out a patrol boat Thursday morning along the Kennebec River but after hours of searching, they found “nothing out of the ordinary,” said Chief Petty Officer Ryan Smith, who is in charge of the Coast Guard’s Boothbay Harbor Station.
Card’s car had been discovered by a boat launch near the Androscoggin River, which connects to the Kennebec, and Card’s 15-foot (4.5-meter) boat remains unaccounted for, Smith said. But he added that officials didn’t have any specific intelligence that Card might have escaped aboard his boat. “We’re just doing our due diligence,” he said.
The Canada Border Services Agency issued an “armed and dangerous” alert to its officers stationed along the Canada-U.S. border.
A bulletin sent to police across the country after the attack said Card had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this past summer after “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” a military base.
A U.S. official said Card was training with the Army Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 304th Infantry Regiment in West Point, New York, when commanders became concerned about him.
State police took Card to the Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point for evaluation, according to the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the information and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Immediately after the shooting, police armed with rifles took positions around Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city, with a population of 37,000. The once overwhelmingly white mill community has become one of the most diverse cities in northern New England after a major influx of immigrants, mostly from Somalia, in recent years.
Schools 50 miles (80 kilometers) away in the town of Kennebunk closed as the search continued. Maine’s largest city, Portland, closed its public buildings.
In Bates College in Lewiston, students stayed in dorms with the blinds closed, said Diana Florence, whose son is a sophomore. She has a daughter who is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was locked down twice last month for a shooting and a man with a gun.
“I could not believe it — that this is happening again. It’s happening to my son after it just happened to my daughter,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.
Maine doesn’t require permits to carry guns, and the state has a longstanding culture of gun ownership that is tied to its traditions of hunting and sport shooting.
Florence, of New York, said she and her son at Bates College spoke and texted late into the night, and that he was shaken up but OK. Meanwhile, she was left angry.
“I think this is about our laws, frankly. That we cannot seem to pass any sort of sensible gun laws or attack mental health in the way we should,” she said. “And our kids are paying the price. And even if they’re not killed or injured, the trauma that is going to linger long past the semester is palpable.”
Author Stephen King 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. It’s the rapid-fire killing machines, people. This is madness in the name of freedom. Stop electing apologists for murder,” he wrote.