Manhunt intensifies for Maine mass shooting suspect
PHOTO CAPTION: A man identified as a suspect by police points what appears to be a semiautomatic rifle, in Lewiston, Maine, U.S., October 25, 2023. Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook/Handout via REUTERS
By Daniel Trotta and Julia Harte
(Reuters) -Hundreds of police on Thursday fanned out across Maine looking for a gunman wanted for opening fire at a bar and a bowling alley in the city of Lewiston, with news outlets reporting a death toll ranging from 16 to 22, with dozens more wounded.
Officials said there were multiple casualties in the Wednesday evening attack but declined to provide figures. Police told residents to stay indoors and schools across the area were closed on Thursday.
State and local police identified Robert R. Card, who reportedly had been committed to a mental health facility over the summer, as a person of interest in the case. They circulated photographs of a bearded man in a brown hoodie and jeans at one of the crime scenes, holding what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle in the firing position.
"We have literally hundreds of police officers working around the state of Maine to investigate this case to locate Mr. Card, who is a person of interest," Maine Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck told a press conference.
Police found a white SUV they believe Card drove to the town of Lisbon, about 7 miles (11 km) to the southeast, and Sauschuck said people were asked to remain indoors in both Lewiston and Lisbon. Early Thursday, Maine State Police also told residents in the town of Bowdoin, about 12 miles east of Lewiston, to shelter in place.
Several media outlets reported that a Maine law enforcement bulletin identified Card, 40, as a trained firearms instructor and member of the U.S. Army reserve who recently said he had been hearing voices and had other mental health issues, and that he threatened to shoot up a National Guard base.
"Card was also reported to have been committed to mental health facility for two weeks during summer 2023 and subsequently released," said the notice from the Maine Information & Analysis Center, a unit of Maine State Police, according to NBC News. Reuters could not confirm the details reported in the bulletin.
The army did not immediately respond to requests for information about Card, including details on his service record.
Police said the shooting began shortly before 7 p.m. The Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant and the Just-in-Time Recreation bowling alley are about three miles (5 km) apart.
"In a split second your world gets turn upside down for no good reason," Schemengees posted on its Facebook page. "How can we make any sense of this."
Jessica Karcher said one of the wounded was her son Justin Karcher, who was shot in the spine and kidneys and was in surgery. He witnessed his father, Jean Karcher, being shot and killed in 2019 during an altercation in a Walmart parking lot, according to Lewiston's Sun Journal newspaper.
In the Sun Journal account, Justin Karcher defended the right of firearm ownership, saying gun violence is "a people problem."
Lewiston is a former textile hub and town of 38,000 people in Androscoggin County about 35 miles (56 km) north of Maine's largest city, Portland.
Guns are lightly regulated in Maine, a largely rural state near the northeast border with Canada. It does not require a permit to buy or carry a gun, and it does not have so-called "red flag" laws seen in some other states that allow law enforcement to temporarily disarm people deemed to be dangerous.
However, at least one federal judge has ruled such laws unconstitutional in light of a landmark 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said that the Constitution grants an individual the right to carry weapons in public.
U.S. President Joe Biden has spoken to state officials and offered the federal government's support, his office said.
"This is a frightening, frightening situation," White House spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC. "More needs to be done to get these weapons of war off the streets and out of people's hands walking around Walmarts and grocery stores and bowling alleys."
The range of estimated fatalities would be on par with the annual number of homicides that normally occur in Maine. The number of annual homicides in the state has fluctuated between 16 and 29 since 2012, according to Maine State Police.
The number of U.S. shootings in which four or more people were shot has surged since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, with 647 occurring in 2022 and 679 projected to occur in 2023, based on trends as of July, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
The deadliest modern U.S. mass shooting on record is the massacre of 58 people by a gunman firing on a Las Vegas country music festival from a high-rise hotel perch in 2017.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, and Julia Harte in New York; Additionanal reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Trevor Hunnicutt and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Porter)