Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the Steve Collins of the Sun Journal on Dec. 15 at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Almost two months have passed since Gov. Janet Mills got a call while driving home to the Blaine House after a reception that informed her “something terrible has happened in Lewiston.”

She’s still trying to make sense of the Oct. 25 mass shooting.

In a recent interview at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Mills spoke of horror and heroism — and of the hope that something worthwhile will emerge from that dark day when a gunman mowed down 18 people at two Lewiston entertainment venues.

At first, Mills said, state leaders were as confused as everyone else, wondering “how many? Where? Who?”

Back home, with her senior staff at hand, the answers began to come into focus.

During the terrifying 48 hours between the shootings and the news that the body of the killer, Robert Card, had been found in a recycling trailer in Lisbon, Mills said she spoke constantly with law enforcement officials, President Joe Biden, her fellow governors and many, many others.


Mills talked with the Sun Journal after visiting the makeshift memorial outside Just-In-Time Recreation, where the shooting began, and before a dinner for first responders.

Sitting in the basilica, where a television crew for News Center Maine also interviewed her, Mills sought to take stock of what she saw and experienced.

Gov. Janet Mills settles in before her interview on Dec. 15 with Zach Blanchard at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The shootings felt, she said, “very personal” to her “because I lived here and because I worked here for 15 years” at offices in Auburn and Lewiston.

“Some of my best friends are still here,” she said.

As a result of her own experiences, Mills said she deeply respects the people of Lewiston, who have built “a remarkable community” with their deep faith, strong work ethic and close ties going back for generations.

The sense of community in Lewiston is incredible, Mills said, including the way people with deep roots have accommodated the Somali refugees who settled here in more recent times.


Sadness and solace

On Mollison Way, Mills looked at some wooden Christmas trees outside the bowling alley to honor those who died there. Little angels in the middle of each design carried the names of the slain.

Mills noticed that one angel had fallen in the dirt.

She reached down, brushed it off and pressed it back in place.

Later, she talked about the victims — and the survivors, too — and how much it meant to her to attend funerals, visit the wounded in the hospital and absorb the personal stories of those whose lives are irrevocably changed.

She said she felt “deep sadness” about all of it, along with frustration and anger.


The governor said she was especially touched by the close-knit Deaf community that had to bury four of its own, including Josh Seal, an interpreter that Mills and other state leaders knew.

At a service for Seals, she said, his wife, son and daughter “all got up and gave a eulogy of sorts in front of their father’s casket,” Mills said.

It felt uplifting, she said, and fit with a powerful message she’d already received from many in the Deaf community that it is strong and courageous.

Mills said she’s seen it in others connected to the shooting, too.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the press Dec. 15 at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

She mentioned speaking with Thomas Giberti, who “saved those kids at the bowling alley by rushing them out the door,” and with Dylan Harvey, who pulled Giberti to safety after Card shot him repeatedly.

“They are all heroes,” Mills said, though they try to deny it.


In the wake of Oct. 25, she said, “we now can expect heroism in the darkest of times, heroism and compassion.”

But, the governor said, “let’s make sure we don’t have to depend on that kind of heroism and compassion.”

“Let’s just find out how to prevent this from happening at all,” Mills said. “We can’t rely on heroes.”

Establishing a commission

The governor said that in the wake of something as terrible as the Lewiston shootings, everybody wonders, “Could we do something different? Could we do something better?”

She said she’s not closing off any options yet as she weighs competing opinions.

Meanwhile, Mills said she created the seven-member Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston because something had to be done promptly.


“People wanted us to take some action,” she said.

The governor brushed aside criticism from some, such as state Rep. Adam Lee, an Auburn Democrat, that she should have worked with legislators to establish the panel.

Mills said the Legislature “didn’t have the authority to set something up” when it was out of session. “The timing wasn’t right.”

Besides, she said, she chose experienced people with a range of backgrounds who aren’t political and who are trusted by those who know them, including her.

Gov. Janet Mills speaks to the Steve Collins of the Sun Journal on Dec. 15 at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Mills said other governors, from both parties, gave her their suggestion that she act.

“They basically said to keep it as nonpolitical as possible,” she said.


Mills said the panel, which is gathering information, should find the facts and investigate them.

What to do next?

Mills said that the mass shooting in Lewiston, the 10th worst in American history, was the “kind of thing that can happen anywhere now.”

“That’s something I hope the Congress looks at more deeply in the months to come,” the governor said.

The state, too, has work to do on “the issue of violence and violence by firearms in particular,” Mills acknowledged.

Though she said she doesn’t have any specific recommendations yet, she may.

“There are all these different scenarios,” Mills said, “and we’ve got to do the right thing.”


“There’s no cookie-cutter piece of legislation that will solve all the problems,” she said. “I’m listening to people from all over the state about what they think should happen.”

The governor said it is already helpful as there is increased awareness of some tools that already exist, including the ‘yellow flag’ measure that can allow police to take custody of some peoples’ guns after obtaining a court’s approval.

“Training and education are part of what we need to expand on,” she said.

Dealing with disaster

Mills has seen plenty of hardship during her stint as governor, including a pandemic that closed much of the state for weeks and killed more than 3,000 Mainers.

She said she doesn’t love the hard times, but she still loves being governor.

Gov. Janet Mills sits for an interview on Dec. 15 with Zach Blanchard at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“As a personal matter, my husband’s been gone for nine years now,” she said, and her daughters are grown. She has five grandchildren.


“I don’t have a household to go home to at night and take care of,” Mills said, “so to some extent, I’m freer than other people might be to deal with things more readily.”

She said that during the COVID-19 crisis, for example, she led a cabinet of 15 talented people along with key staffers who “became so close as a team.”

The same sort of knowing response that worked well during the pandemic, also helped the state’s response to the Lewiston shooting, she said.

When you “have the right people put in the right place,” Mills said, they act responsibly and swiftly.

“I’m proud of them,” Mills said.

What’s next?

In the coming months, the governor said, she hopes to do “a lot more” talking with ordinary Mainers.


“Sometimes you get really good ideas from the people on Main Street, the people in the grocery store, the people in the diner, the breakfast place,” she said.

Mills said she wants to know “how they’re feeling, how they’re reacting, what ideas they have. It’s important.”

She said that as governor, she acts for a lot more than just herself.

“You represent 1.3 million people,” she said, “and you have to listen to a lot of people, with very divergent views on issues.”

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