(NEW YORK) — Months ahead of his bloody rampage in Lewiston last week, suspected Maine gunman Robert Card had displayed glaring signals that his mental health was on a drastic decline — signals which his immediate family members knew about, were concerned by and explicitly warned law enforcement that something needed to be done, according to documents obtained by ABC News via records requests.
As far back as January, Card’s mental health had already started to decline, his family said. By May it was getting even worse, and they were concerned for his well-being, and that he had access to firearms.
Despite some follow-up between local police and the Army Reserves regarding Card’s apparent paranoia, verbalized threats to shoot people and recurrent aggressive behavior in recent months, the documents do not indicate that Card was ever taken into protective custody or judged mentally incompetent by a medical professional which is required to trigger Maine’s yellow flag law.
On Oct. 25, Card’s repeated warning signs would prove fatal, when he would act on his threats in back-to-back massacres that claimed the lives of 18 and injured 13 more.
Family seeks help
On May 3, Card’s ex-wife and their teenage son went to the office of the Topsham School Resource Officer with concerns about Robert Card, according to an incident report from responding officer, Sagadahoc County Deputy Chad Carleton.
In all caps at the top of that report, a notice to patrol advises to “USE CAUTION IF RESPONDING” to Card’s residence due to his “PARANOID BEHAVIOR” and that he has “10-15 FIREARMS” in his house and/or truck.
“I learned from [Card’s son] that his father’s mental health is in question. [Card’s son] told me that back around January, he noticed his father was starting to claim that people were saying things about him, while out in public,” Carleton wrote.
In public, Card’s son said his father would “start to claim that people around them were talking about him” even when nowhere nearby, and saying nothing in his direction.
Card’s son concluded his father was “likely hearing voices or starting to experience paranoia,” a “re-occurring theme” as Card claimed derogatory things were being said about him, “such as calling him a pedophile,” Carleton wrote.
That paranoia and anger would be turned towards his own family, with Card’s son recounting that in April he had visited his father and Card “became very angry, accusing him of saying things about him behind his back,”
In the aftermath of the carnage that rocked rural Maine last week, a portrait of who Robert Card was is now coming into fuller public view — though the documents show that worrisome warnings had already been communicated to law enforcement for months.
“Robert is currently an Army Reservist assigned to a training unit in Saco and has historically instructed soldier’s on the use of hand grenades,” Carleton learns from Card’s son and ex-wife, according to the May incident report.
“Cara said she is very worried about [their son] spending time with Robert, considering what may be a deteriorating mental health condition,” Carleton wrote.
“Cara also told me that Robert had recently picked up 10-15 handguns/rifles that had previously been stored at his brother Ryan Card’s house. [His son] said the majority of the guns are locked up in Robert’s bedroom but added he may have one in his truck. [Card’s son] denied that Robert has done anything threatening with the guns, but is concerned that his father has them,” Carleton added.
Though the Card family was “aware of Robert’s deteriorating mental health,” mother and son told investigators all mitigating efforts “have been in vain as Robert is in denial,” Officer Carleton recounted, and that “Robert has been historically resistant to admitting anything is wrong.”
Card’s brother Ryan had not realized he was “becoming this paranoid or hearing voices,” but that during episodes of “heavy drinking” he would make “angry rants about having to shoot someone,” Card’s ex-wife said, according to the May incident report.
Card’s brother was also “not aware Robert had picked up his guns and was concerned over this,” Carleton recounts from a conversation they had, the May incident report said.
According to the May incident report, Card’s brother told investigators he believed the paranoia and anger began when Card got hearing aids for the first time, in February, which Sagadahoc County Deputy Carleton says from his research could possibly be part of the constellation but also could be a coincidence.
Card’s ex-wife and son “both don’t want Robert to know they are bringing this information forward to law enforcement, for fear it will aggravate the situation,” Carleton’s May report said — that for the time being they were “simply going to try and avoid contact” and that “everyone agreed” the “best avenue of getting Robert some help” might be to contact Card’s command in the Army Reserves.
After speaking with the family, Deputy Carleton reached out to Card’s Army Reserves battalion in Saco, who in turn informed him “there has recently been considerable concern for Robert.”
“It sounded like they may be aware of his recent mental health decline,” Deputy Carleton wrote in the May incident report.
Carleton was told that Card “had been accusing other soldiers of calling him a sex offender which seems to coincide with some of the behavior [Card’s son] has witnessed,” he writes, but that the full extent of the issue may not have been known.
“First Sgt. Mote said he had no idea the problem is perhaps as bad as (Card’s son) is now describing. He thanked me for the notification because they are scheduled for an upcoming training exercise involving crew served weapons and grenades,” Carleton wrote in the May incident report.
Brewing paranoia sours to aggression
According to sheriff’s department incident reports Card’s concerns over being labeled a pedophile boiled over this summer.
In July, while on a beer run with fellow soldiers, Card accused them of calling him a pedophile and even questioning the size of his manhood, then got into a physical confrontation with one soldier described as a “longtime friend,” shoving him, the letter from Card’s army reserve unit to the sheriff’s office says.
An email from a member of Card’s army reserve unit to the sheriff’s office says that incident led to Card being evaluated by an Army psychologist who determined he needed further treatment.
According to the email, Card was taken to Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in Katonah, New York for treatment and evaluation in mid-July and was released after 14 days.
Documents from the sheriff’s office show in early September the Army Reserve requested a health and welfare check for Card, after a reserve soldier expressed concern that Card was going to commit a mass shooting.
The soldier says he was in the car with Card when Card started talking about shooting up places and punched him.
“According to Hodgson, Card said he has guns and is going to shoot up the drill center at Saco and other places. He also said he was going to get ‘them.’ Since the commander and I are the ones who had him committed we are the ‘them.’ He also said I was the reason he can’t buy guns anymore because of the commitment. Hodgson is concerned that Card is going to snap and commit a mass shooting,” the email from Card’s Army Reserve unit to the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s office says.
The message goes on to say, “I would rather err on the side of caution with regards to Card since he is a capable marksman and, if he should set his mind to carry out the threats made to Hodgson, he would be able to do it.”
Authorities issued an alert known as a “File 6,” warning law enforcement agencies across the state that Card was suffering from psychotic episodes and was “known to be armed and dangerous.”
Sagadahoc officers went to Card’s listed address, but the new residents told them he lived next door.
In a Sept. 15 police incident report on the welfare check, responding officer Aaron Skolfield notes it had come to the Army Reserves’ attention that “Card is having psychotic episodes where he is hearing voices that are insulting him calling him a pedophile.”
“Card is also making threats to shoot up the Saco [Army Reserve] facility,” noting his psych commitment over the summer “due to his altered mental state but has since been released.”
“It should be noted that Card is a firearms instructor … so utmost caution must be utilized,” he added.
The next day, Sagadahoc County deputies returned, saying Card could be heard moving around inside, but he refused to answer the door. Finding themselves in a “very disadvantageous position,” the deputies decided to back away, according to the incident report filed after the visit.
The Army Reserve told them Card had behaved similarly in the past, according to an incident report, and “after he keeps to himself for a while he will come back out.”
Deputies say they were also told Card no longer had any weapons from the reserve unit and that arrangements were being made with Card’s brother to retrieve the personal weapons belonging to Card.
A sheriff’s office report says deputies confirmed Card’s brother was able to get his guns and that he and his father would make sure Card did not have access to any firearms.
Documents show deputies canceled the File 6 alert for Card on Oct. 18 — one week before Card would ultimately open fire on men, women and children at two different locations.
In a written statement, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry says he believes his agency acted appropriately and followed procedures.
“My office will evaluate our policies and procedures for how we conduct wellness checks with the goal of making any improvements that are in the interest of public safety while balancing the rights of individuals. Our hearts are breaking for the families and friends of the people who were killed and injured,” Merry said.
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