In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (2024)

  • Lewiston-Auburn
  • Maine

State police chief said there is 'always room for improvement,' but he is proud of what police did during the Oct. 25 incident that killed 18 people.

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In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (1)
Steve CollinsSun Journal

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In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (3)

Daniel E. Wathan, center, chairman of the Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston, listens Friday morning as Maine State Police Col. William Ross, foreground left, answers a question in the Council Chamber of Lewiston City Hall. The commission held the hearing at Lewiston City Hall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — The head of the Maine State Police on Friday told the state commission investigating the Oct. 25, 2023, Lewiston mass shooting that the initial response as officers rushed to confront the gunman was “a proud moment” for law enforcement.

In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (4)

Maine State Police Col. William Ross holds an internal document Friday morning that was leaked to the media during the manhunt for Robert Card, suspected in the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston. Ross testified at Lewiston City Hall before the state commission investigating the shooting that killed 18 people. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At a five-hour hearing of the Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston, members of the panel heard from state police officials discussing their internal and external communications during the nighttime shooting spree at two recreational businesses that left 18 people dead and 13 injured, as well as further details of how public safety leaders handled the search.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Col. William Ross said, but in general he painted a picture of an ever-more organized oversight of what became the largest police operation in the state’s history.

“This was a massive undertaking,” Ross said, as well as “one of the most emotionally and physically draining experiences” officers have ever faced.

Ross did not share the concerns expressed by some about what he admitted was a “very chaotic” arrival of law enforcement officers from many different agencies who took it upon themselves to try to lend a hand in the first hours after the shootings.

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Watch Friday’s commission hearing at Lewiston City Hall

“When the call came in, people responded,” Ross said. That’s what they should do, he added.

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“I wouldn’t want to have someone sitting in a parking lot saying, ‘I’m not going to go to that active shooter,’” Ross said.

By early Thursday morning after the shootings, he said, an incident command center was up and running, its operations growing “better and better with every passing hour.”

His biggest gripes in terms of communication were focused on a couple of media leaks of potentially sensitive information, including news of a note found at killer Robert Card’s home in Bowdoin long before police found him dead in a storage trailer in Lisbon.

Ross said police never tried to track down who leaked the information because they were busy with more important issues. He compared the effort to finding a needle in a haystack even in the best of circ*mstances.

In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (5)

Dr. Debra Baeder, a member of the state commission investigating the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston, listens Friday to Maine State Police Col. William Ross answer a question at a hearing at Lewiston City Hall. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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Complete coverage of the Oct. 25 fatal shootings in Lewiston

Sgt. Greg Roy, who leads the state police tactical team, said the 16 tactical teams that came together during the search for Card worked reasonably well.

He talked with the commission about why nobody checked the Maine Recycling Corp. overflow lot in Lisbon where Card’s body was eventually found Oct. 27, two days after Card opened fire on patrons at Just-In-Time Recreation on Mollison Way and Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant on Lincoln Street.

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Maine State Police Sgt. Christopher Farley said Card’s brother Ryan told officers the night of the shooting that his brother might have gone to a few spots after leaving Schemengees, including Maine Recycling, where he’d worked. Farley said, though, that nothing specific was singled out.

Roy said two tactical teams went to the company’s property after the tip came in that Card might go there. They searched the building and the trailers around it, he said.

But nobody looked at the Maine Recycling trailers in the overflow lot across the street, he said, because “they were not asked to.”

Roy said he didn’t know about the other lot until that Friday afternoon, more than a day and a half after Card vanished. Someone in the overall incident command center asked him about it, Roy said, and later in the day officers checking the trailers found Card’s body.

Once officers began looking, he said, it took 90 minutes or less to find Card, who had killed himself earlier Friday, according to the medical examiner.

Commission members said it was unfortunate the site hadn’t been checked sooner.

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“In hindsight, it’s very easy to go there,” Ross said.

Ross also mentioned that during the search, officers had to be somewhat wary of what the Card family told them because the families of suspects in other crimes had not always been honest.

“People lie to us. They are deceitful,” Ross said. “Yes, it happens. They help the offender.”

The commission is looking into many aspects of the shooting, from what happened at each of the venues to how the police dealt with Card in the months before the shootings. Friday’s session at Lewiston City Hall dug into the communications angle throughout the incident.

In Lewiston, state commission hears testimony on police response to 2023 mass shooting (6)

The state commission investigating the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston meets Friday morning in Lewiston City Hall to hear state police discuss their response to the shooting and search for the gunman. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

It is unclear when the commission will wrap up its work or what its final report might say.

Ross said state police leaders are planning to conduct their own study after the commission finishes its work, so they can address any issues raised. He said, though, that internal changes have already been made to improve some areas.

Ross said one thing he found especially helpful during the incident was the creation of the Family Assistance Center to work directly with victims and their families.

The center, he said, “was one of the brighter lights in this operation.”

“They knocked it out of the park,” Ross said.

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  • Read our complete coverage of the Lewiston mass shooting

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