Warning about Maine gunman on verge of shooting taken 'seriously' but with 'grain of salt,' police were told

Police fielded concerns about Robert Card's mental decline before the shooting.

December 15, 2023, 5:11 PM

In the month leading up to Robert Card's deadly rampage in Lewiston, Maine, in October, local police were fielding reports over his psychological decline amid fears that he might be on the verge of committing a mass shooting.

In attempting to assess his mental status, however, local police were told by Card's Army Reserve unit company commander that while the Reserve was obligated to take some of those concerns "very seriously," they also needed to take it "with a grain of salt as well," according to a police dashcam recording obtained by ABC News from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office via records request.

The conversation was recorded the morning of Sept. 16 on a call between the company commander, and a Sagadahoc County Sergeant who had just attempted a second unsuccessful welfare check on Card. The dashcam video records a view of Card's driveway through the windshield.

Those welfare checks were requested after a series of distraught late-night text messages from one of Card's fellow reservists that warned a supervisor that Card could pose a threat, and a belief he would "snap and do a mass shooting," according to copies of the messages obtained by ABC News. Those texts moved the supervisor to request a welfare check.

PHOTO: Law enforcement officers use an underwater robotic camera to search the water around the Pejepscot Boat Ramp on the Androscoggin River, Oct. 27, 2023 in Lisbon, Maine.
Law enforcement officers use an underwater robotic camera to search the water around the Pejepscot Boat Ramp on the Androscoggin River, Oct. 27, 2023 in Lisbon, Maine.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"So, obviously we're very concerned over this. I don't wanna be an alarmist or anything," the Sagadahoc police sergeant says on the dashcam audio. "I've got, you know, a lot of documentation that said to me they're worried about [Card] doing a mass shooting, and he's having hallucinations, that he had been institutionalized for a couple of weeks this past summer, and he's – he's not showing any signs of improvement."

"Just trying to get some answers on ... your end of it here," the sergeant said. "All of his weapons from the National Guard have been accounted for, right? So, he doesn't have anything at the house?"

The Reserve captain replied "there was no real court order to take his weapons or anything like that" but that he was not kept "in the loop" of what was required after Card was hospitalized for two weeks over the summer, because of medical privacy rules. The captain added that it was his understanding Card's family was supposed to remove his weapons from the home, but he had been "unable" to "verify" whether the weapons were removed because Card lived in New Hampshire.

The captain said he had spoken with Card just a day earlier -- and that "he sounded angry, definitely angry at people, but made no specific threats, like, 'I'm gonna come there and shoot if nobody does' -- nothing like that. It was, not even, he's just, 'I'm pissed off at how everything went, and now I got to work because of how everything went down there at West Point,'" apparently referring to the incident that led to Card being institutionalized for a psychiatric evaluation and treatment in July.

PHOTO: U.S. police continue to search for mass shooting suspect Robert Card, Oct. 27, 2023, in Maine.
U.S. police continue to search for mass shooting suspect Robert Card, Oct. 27, 2023, in Maine.
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images, FILE

"[Card] never said any specific names, he never said anyone specific, he didn't target any specific sites, or anything like that," the Reserve captain told the Sagadahoc sergeant.

A report released by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's office Thursday makes reference to this September conversation as well -- noting the Reserve captain's "assessment of his conversation with Mr. Card was that [Card] did not pose a foreseeable risk of imminent self-harm or harm to others."

The Army has said it's conducting its own investigation into Card. ABC News requested comment from the Army but did not immediately get a response.

The U.S. Army Inspector General announced it would launch an independent investigation into what led up to the mass shooting, according to a letter from the Under Secretary of the Army released by Maine's congressional delegation Friday afternoon.

The probe will be separate from the internal review which the Army has already said it is conducting, with both expected to yield "findings and recommendations that should allow Army leadership to chance policies and hold individuals accountable as appropriate," Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said in the letter.

The IG investigation will formally commence "either upon cessation" of the Reserve's internal probe, or by Feb. 1, 2024, "whichever comes first," the letter said.

About a month after that phone call on the evening of Oct. 25, Card would open fire at a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, according to police. Eighteen people were killed and 13 more were injured.

After a two-day manhunt that forced thousands to shelter in place, police found Card dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the recycling center where he once worked.

In the months leading up to that point, Card, 40, had displayed a well-documented series of mental health issues. Card's own immediate family, fellow soldiers, and other community members had already warned they worried about his state -- that he had been paranoid, hearing voices and making violent threats -- warnings which police were following up on, in the recordings obtained.

Last July, Card was institutionalized for two weeks for psychological treatment and evaluation, after it became clear to his fellow soldiers that Card's mental state was deteriorating. He was released after 14 days.

Separately, the Sagadahoc County report noted that Reserve personnel had told their sergeant that before the shootings, "the Army Reserve command staff was in the process of encouraging Mr. Card to retire from the military on the condition that he obtain some mental health treatment."

In the police video recording, the Reserve captain notes Card had acted belligerent and self-isolating like this before, and the captain just wanted local law enforcement to make sure Card was "alive and breathing."

Card could be "uncooperative or whatever," the captain says, according to the police audio. He added about the previous incident, "And nothing ended up happening. He didn't have any weapons, he didn't, it didn't turn into anything. He eventually came out ... it's not unheard of for him to kind of handle it this way."

Though the captain said that was "our [the Reserve's] two cents," that "if there's something else that you guys see out there that you're more concerned about, then you can kind of act on it."

The Reserve captain said they "went to try and fact check" the worries relayed in the late-night text messages about Card, however questioned whether Card truly posed a concrete threat.

"The guy who sent it out, he was unable to even give specifics on, during that, so I don't know like what, like, the - the validity of the text message is," he said. There was "enough" for concern and follow up, especially considering Card's "history," he said.

PHOTO: This photo released by the Lewiston Maine Police Department shows Robert Card, who police have identified as a person of interest in connection to mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023.
This photo released by the Lewiston Maine Police Department shows Robert Card, who police have identified as a person of interest in connection to mass shootings in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 25, 2023.
Lewiston Maine Police Department via AP, FILE

"Obviously when anyone texts anything like that, we obviously need to take it very seriously. But also taking it with, like, with a grain of salt as well," he said, "because we – we know where the source is coming from so it's kind of – that's kind of what we were really looking ... the goal of it was ... make sure he's good, alive, um, and then just if we can document it, we can go from there."

In a separate conversation between this same Reserve captain and a different officer from Saco police, this Reserve captain also questioned the credibility of the reservist who sent the texts warning about Card, saying he was "not the most credible" and wondering if he was "drunk" when he sent those texts, according to the Sagadahoc report.

Still, the captain noted on the dashcam audio, Card is "refusing any real medical treatment."

"I don't think this is gonna get any better," he says, according to the audio. "You know, you can lead a horse to water but if he's not gonna drink it, then there's not much we can really do."

In another dashcam recording obtained, the same Sagadahoc County sergeant goes to the home of Card's father, later in the same morning of Sept. 16.

The sergeant says he was hoping to confirm with Card's brother that he had taken possession of Card's guns -- telling Card's father they wanted to make sure Card didn't do anything "foolish."

The sergeant said he could not get Card to "talk to us," and that he "won't answer the door."

The sergeant indicated that he understood the brother had Card's weapons, but "wanted to make sure that that's the case." The father said he was not familiar with the status of Card's firearms.

The report released by the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's office makes reference to this conversation as well: "Although it's difficult to hear in the recording, Mr. Card, Sr., apparently referring to Mr. Card's mental health, said something to the effect of, 'it doesn't sound good.'"

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