Commission members from left, Daniel Wathen, Paula Silsby and Dr. Anthony Ng listen to Sgt. Nathan Morse of the Lisbon Police Department as he speaks Thursday during the fourth public meeting of the panel investigating the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. The meeting was held at the University of Maine in Augusta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — Members of the Lewiston and Lisbon police departments shared new details Thursday about the first chaotic hours of the manhunt for mass shooter Robert Card, including the failed initial sweep of the parking lot where police eventually found his body.

Thursday’s meeting of the state commission investigating the Lewiston mass shooting focused largely on law enforcement’s struggle to immediately organize a unified search for the killer in the face of dozens of false tips and red herrings.

The commission praised the bravery of the hundreds of officers from around the state and beyond who raced to Lewiston to help search for Card in the wake of his rampage at two locations. But testimony about Lisbon officers’ unsuccessful search of the Maine Recycling Corp. lot – and state troopers’ failure to find Card there during a subsequent search of the property the next day – illustrated the difficulty of building clear lines of communication between so many different agencies.

“In short, it was very chaotic,” Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre said. “I’m not going to say it wasn’t.”


Much of the overall timeline of the shootings at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille has been known to the public for months. But several officers who spoke Thursday told the commission that it was important to remember that on the evening of Oct. 25, nothing was clear – not the number of businesses that had been attacked, not the identity of the shooter, not even whether he had acted alone.


Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre in his office in November. St. Pierre told the members of the governor’s commission investigating the mass shooting that the night of Oct. 25 was “very chaotic.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Lewiston officers, in accordance with their training on active shooter scenarios, arrived at Just-In-Time Recreation just before 7 p.m. – within minutes of the first 911 calls, said Lt. James Theiss. But Card was already gone. They rushed to Schemengees Bar & Grille but were again too late.

It took nearly no time for officers from other departments to begin arriving in Lewiston to help search for the killer. But as word of the mass shooting reached the public, a growing panic made it difficult to wield the extra manpower efficiently.

Police rushed to a third restaurant where reports of another shooting turned out to be false. Then they flocked to the nearby Walmart Distribution Center, where officers had to form a perimeter and breach the doors before they were able to confirm that it too was a false alarm.

“In my mind I had four (shooting locations) until we disproved it,” Theiss said.

Maine State Police took over the investigation between 8 and 8:30 p.m., St. Pierre said. Officers first set up a command center at the Lewiston Police Department, then moved to the high school, where there was more room to accommodate help from other departments.

The new location was a success, St. Pierre said, but the difficulty of coordinating so many departments was still there. He said there may have been a temporary struggle between state police and the FBI about who would run the investigation.


It was “days” before St. Pierre became aware that members of the Deaf community had been killed in the shooting, and he told the commission that he was still unsure exactly who made key decisions about where to send witnesses and victims that night. During a commission meeting last week, deaf family members of victims expressed frustration with communication from police.


Sgt. Nathan Morse of the Lisbon police told the commission that he and his partner were the first officers to discover Card’s white Subaru Outback at a boat launch off Frost Hill Avenue. They could not tell whether the vehicle was empty, and instead of approaching, they called Lisbon Chief Ryan McGee.

Sgt. Nathan Morse of the Lisbon Police Department testifies Thursday at the University of Maine in Augusta during the fourth public meeting of the panel investigating the facts of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Police soon confirmed the car’s registration number matched Card’s vehicle. Backup, including Topsham K-9 officer Lucas Shirland quickly arrived at the scene, McGee said.

Still, none of the officers approached the car, McGee said. That decision was made partly out of safety and partly to avoid contaminating the scene in a way that would make a K-9 search difficult.

But there was no dog search that night. Very quickly, state police announced they would take over the scene and asked other departments to clear the area. They had their own K-9 unit but chose not to conduct a search until the next morning – a decision that state police leaders later defended after some experts criticized the delay.


After learning of Card’s identity and his employment history with Maine Recycling Corp., Lisbon police searched the business’ parking lot around 2 a.m. The officers who testified Thursday said they didn’t know if Card was there, but they knew it was accessible on foot from where he’d abandoned his car about a mile away.

“We had no information that he was there. I mean, he could have been anywhere,” Lisbon police officer Renee Bernard said.

Officer Renee Bernard of the Lisbon Police Department speaks Thursday during the fourth public meeting of the panel investigating the facts of the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

They said they searched the company’s overflow lot, which is across the street from the main property and is where Card’s body was ultimately found inside a trailer two days later. He had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound somewhere between eight to 12 hours earlier. It remains unclear if he had been in the trailer the entire time.

Bernard said that the first search involved three officers shining flashlights into open trailers, most of which were entirely empty; officers did not open closed trailers, partly because they didn’t have any specific reason to think Card was hiding in there. But police also became worried that peering into even the semi-open trailers could be dangerous because they had received information that he was armed and might have a night vision equipment.

“Tactically, it probably wasn’t the best for us to be searching in this manner – looking into trailers where basically your upper torso and head are made readily available,” Detective Richard St. Amant said.

“We knew that he was in the military,” McGee said. “That was always in the back of our mind: How much training did he get to evade us?”


The Lisbon officers said they searched a couple more businesses in the area before being told that state police were taking over the search and they needed to leave.

But while Lisbon police knew that secondary lot was connected to Maine Recycling, state police didn’t find out until about 36 hours later.

Commission members pressed the officers on why they didn’t share that information and other details of their search with state police, who also failed to find Card during a search of Maine Recycling’s property the next day.

But McGee reiterated that the importance of the recycling center wasn’t clear at the time – it was just one lead at a time when Lisbon and other departments across the region were being flooded with tips and requests for help that turned out to be nothing.

Commission Executive Director Anne Jordan, center and Detective Richard St. Amant, left, of the Lisbon Police Department, show commission members a photo showing the storage trailers where Robert Card’s body was eventually found days after the mass shooting. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel


Thursday’s hearing, the commission’s fourth public meeting since Gov. Janet Mills announced its formation in November, made clear that state police made most of the major decisions about when and how to conduct the hunt for Card.

Since sharing a few details immediately after the shooter’s body was discovered, the agency has largely remained tight-lipped about why it made the choices it did. State police leaders are scheduled to testify before the commission on Feb. 15.

The commission also is seeking to interview members of the U.S. Army about steps it did or did not take to get Card help and to keep him away from weapons after he began demonstrating erratic behavior.

Both the House and Senate voted unanimously Thursday to grant the commission subpoena power, which would allow it to compel witnesses to testify, but the bill still needs final procedural votes before being sent to Mills. That is expected to happen next week.

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