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Maine assailant most likely alive for much of 2-day search

Mourners gather at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul for a remembrance ceremony last Sunday in Lewiston, Maine.  (Joe Raedle)
By Colbi Edmonds and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs New York Times

The assailant who fled after killing 18 people and injuring 13 others at a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, last month was most likely alive during much of the sprawling two-day search that forced thousands of residents throughout the region to remain in their homes.

The assailant, Robert R. Card II, 40, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound eight to 12 hours before his body was found in a trailer at a recycling plant where he once worked, the Maine medical examiner’s office said Friday, meaning it is likely he was alive during much of the search.

It remains unclear whether Card was hiding in the recycling plant trailer the entire time after the shooting, or if he went there later, but the time estimate suggests that the lockdown in and around Lewiston was justified.

Law enforcement and other officials have faced scrutiny over the search, in part because they searched the recycling plant, Maine Recycling, twice without finding Card. It was during a third sweep on Oct. 27 – two days after the shootings – that they also searched for the first time an adjacent dirt parking lot used by the company. That search took place after a supervisor at the company reached out to police and suggested they look through the trailers, officials have said.

There has also been criticism of the local sheriff’s office and Army Reserve failing to prevent the shooting despite warnings from Card’s family and colleagues – stretching back to May – that he had guns and was growing increasingly angry and paranoid.

Card’s ex-wife and teenage son said in May that he had started hearing voices and wrongly believed that people were accusing him of being a pedophile. In September, his Army Reserve unit in Saco, Maine, reached out to the sheriff’s office in Sagadahoc County, where Card lived, and asked officers to check on Card.

A sergeant went to his home, but Card did not answer the door, and the sheriff’s office opted to leave the matter largely in his family’s hands after being assured that they had a way to secure his weapons.

The hunt for Card, who carried out the nation’s deadliest mass shooting this year, had extended across a broad swath of the largely rural state, with many forests and other potential hiding places. The search created an atmosphere of high anxiety among residents as police cruisers, dogs, helicopters and divers searched the farms, forests and waters in the area. Police were flooded with calls from worried residents who reported hearing sounds in their backyards or seeing someone walking down the street who they thought might be the suspect.

The night of the shootings, officials in the neighboring city of Auburn urged residents to shelter in place, lock all doors and report suspicious people. They warned that the attacker was armed and dangerous.

Later that evening, law enforcement found the gunman’s abandoned vehicle in Lisbon, about 8 miles from Lewiston.

The following day, Maine State Police said the force was expanding its shelter-in-place advisory for Lewiston, the state’s second-largest city after Portland, and Bowdoin, about 15 miles away. Classes were canceled at Bates College in Lewiston and at local and neighboring school districts.

Card was found dead about 7:45 p.m. Oct. 27, about 49 hours after the shooting rampage had begun, authorities said. The recycling center where he was found sits a little more than 10 miles southeast of Lewiston and roughly a mile from where he had abandoned his car.

This past week, Gov. Janet Mills of Maine said she would work with the state attorney general to establish an independent commission to investigate the shooting and the warning signs. The panel, which will include legal and mental health experts, was tasked with determining “the facts and circumstances” around the tragedy, including the police response and the months leading up to it.

“The gravity of this attack on our people – an attack that strikes at the core of who we are and the values we hold dear – demands a higher level of scrutiny,” Mills said in a statement.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.