'Several' missed opportunities to possibly stop Maine mass shooter: Report

If taken, those actions "may have changed the course of events" the report said.

March 16, 2024, 4:11 PM

Though the Maine mass shooter was "solely responsible for his own conduct" when he took the lives of 18 people and injured 13 more, it was the responsibility of law enforcement officials who were already aware of his mental decline to intervene, and on multiple occasions, they failed in their duty, an independent commission tasked with investigating what led up to shooting has found.

The initial interim report released Friday said there were "several" missed opportunities to take action that "may have changed the course of events," and could have potentially prevented lives from being lost.

The shooter, Army Reservist Robert Card, had displayed a well-documented series of mental health concerns in the months leading up to the shootings, voiced to police by both his fellow soldiers and family members. On Oct. 25, 2023, he opened fire at a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine.

PHOTO: Law enforcement is attempting to locate Robert Card as a person of interest regarding the mass shooting at Schemengees Bar and Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023.
Law enforcement is attempting to locate Robert Card as a person of interest regarding the mass shooting at Schemengees Bar and Sparetime Recreation in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023.
Lewiston Maine Police Department

The independent commission found that local police had "sufficient probable cause" to take Card into custody under Maine's Yellow Flag law and remove his guns. Yet, the commission found officials who were aware of Card's decline didn't follow up on those concerns.

Some of the findings are in direct disagreement with previous findings released by local police about their actions leading up to the shooting.

The commission says they received over a terabyte of electronic records from the Maine State Police, as well as additional records, transcripts, videos, photographs and other materials from multiple local, county, and federal law enforcement agencies and emergency communication centers, the U.S. Army, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, prosecuting attorneys, medical facilities and various local and state government officials. That is in addition to the series of public hearings that have been held for various agencies to come testify.

Their final report is expected in the coming months.

The commission found that the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office sergeant, who attempted to conduct a welfare check on Card in September, did not follow up enough on what he already knew about Card's state.

"Responding to a report that Mr. Card was suffering from some sort of mental health crisis, had recently assaulted a friend, had threatened to shoot up the Saco Armory and harm others, and was in possession of numerous firearms," the sergeant "should have realized that he had probable cause to start the Yellow Flag process," the interim report said.

That sergeant, as ABC News has reported, had a brief conversation with Card's brother, who assured him the family would work to remove Card's guns. That wasn't enough, the commission report said.

"Under the circumstances" known at the time, "the decision to turn over the responsibility for removing Mr. Card's firearms to Mr. Card's family was an abdication of law enforcement's responsibility," the commission said. "This decision shifted what is and was a law enforcement responsibility onto civilians who have neither the legal authority to begin the Yellow Flag process nor any legal authority to seize weapons."

The sergeant "made only limited attempts to accomplish a 'face-to-face' meeting with Mr. Card," the commission said, and "failed" to follow up on previously flagged concerns about Card's behavior or "seek assistance from prosecutors or other law enforcement agencies to determine how best to proceed."

The Sheriff's office also "failed to take the necessary steps to take Mr. Card into custody and begin the Yellow Flag process," according to the report.

This finding from the independent commission is in disagreement with a separate outside review, released by Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office in December -- which said SCSO had "reasonably concluded" that they "did not have sufficient grounds" to take Card into protective custody or start the process of confiscating his guns.

The sergeant "insisted that he could not have established probable cause to seek a Yellow Flag order as he had 'not laid eyes' on Mr. Card. However, it has been long established in Maine that a police officer may determine probable cause through the collective knowledge of all law enforcement officers involved in an investigation," the commission now says, and "in this instance, there was more than sufficient probable cause" for Sagadahoc County to begin the Yellow Flag application process in September.

"The Commission recognizes that to take Mr. Card into protective custody, an officer would have had to make 'face-to-face' contact with him. We also recognize that process might not have been without difficulty and potential risk," the new interim report said, but taking Card into protective custody "was warranted" by the information the Sagadahoc sergeant knew in September, and "a plan to intervene and take Mr. Card into protective custody should have been undertaken."

When Card was hospitalized for two weeks of psychological evaluation and treatment in July, his "mental health providers" told his Reserves company commander that "they were concerned about Card's access to firearms at his home," and "also issued a set of recommendations" to the commander, the commission said.

Card's mental health providers had "explicitly recommended" to the commander "that measures be taken to safely remove all firearms and weapons from Mr. Card's home," the commission report said.

PHOTO: Police tape cordons off the road to Schemengees Bar and Grille as law enforcement officers maintain their presence in the aftermath of a mass shooting by Army reservist Robert Card in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 27, 2023.
Police tape cordons off the road to Schemengees Bar and Grille as law enforcement officers maintain their presence in the aftermath of a mass shooting by Army reservist Robert Card in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 27, 2023.
Matt Rourke/AP, FILE

The commission found Card's Reserve commander "did not report this information to the [SCSO]."

Instead, as ABC News first reported, when a Sagadahoc County sergeant attempted to make a welfare check in September, that commander appeared to downplay concerns about his soldier.

While they were obligated to take those concerns "very seriously," the Reserve commander told the sergeant, they also needed to take it "with a grain of salt."

The commander "did not suggest that Mr. Card undergo another risk assessment, and despite acknowledging that 'I don't think this is gonna get any better' because Mr. Card had refused to undergo any mental health treatment after his release" from the hospital, the Reserve commander "appeared to minimize the risk that Mr. Card posed to the community," the report said.

After the Sagadahoc sergeant's conversation with Card's commander and Card's brother, who said he would try to secure his guns, the sergeant considered the matter "resolved," and the sergeant "nor any other member of his department took any further steps in this matter," the commission's report said. The sergeant "was going on vacation the next day and because he considered the matter resolved, he didn't pass the matter on for further investigation by another deputy."

The sergeant "failed to follow up" with Card's brother, "failed to attempt a well-being check, failed to consult with the District Attorney's Office about the possibility of a Yellow Flag order, and failed to contact the Army Reserve unit for any further information," the commission said. He also "failed" to check records about a May report from a colleague which noted concerns voiced by Card's family to police about his decline. When the sergeant returned from vacation on Oct. 1, he "failed to meet with or engage Mr. Card, check back with other members of the Card family or attempt to call Mr. Card himself."

Though he had issued a "File 6" take-caution notice a month earlier about Card being armed and dangerous and he had "made threats to shoot up" his Reserve facility, which was available to statewide law enforcement, he canceled it on Oct. 18, the commission's report noted, "Just one week before Mr. Card committed Maine's deadliest mass shooting."

"The Army Reserve did not encourage law enforcement to charge Card for threatening to 'shoot up' the facility," the commission's report continued, and "failed to divulge" the psych hospital's "recommendations and concerns."

"They treated Card as a high risk of violence against the unit's members, but appeared to minimize the threat he posed once they were satisfied that Card was not coming to the unit on September 16, 2023," the interim report said.

"The Commission will continue to pursue the facts in this case and will conduct additional public hearings to gather additional testimony, materials, and reports to gather all the necessary information to determine what happened before, during and after the tragic shootings on October 25, 2023," the commission said, pointing to their expected final report. "More work needs to be done and it will be done -- the victims, their families and the people of Maine deserve no less."