By Gabriella Borter
LEWISTON, Maine (Reuters) -The U.S. Army reservist who sprayed a bowling alley and bar with gunfire this week in Lewiston, Maine, killing 18 people, took his own life inside a cargo trailer parked on the lot of a recycling plant where he once worked, police said on Saturday.
Robert R. Card, 40, was found dead on Friday evening from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said late Friday night. The announcement, after a 48-hour search for the suspect in the most lethal act of firearms violence in the state's history, brought a sense of relief to Lewiston and other southern Maine communities plunged into a virtual lockdown during the manhunt.
At a news briefing on Saturday, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck revealed that a state police tactical team discovered Card's corpse in an unlocked shipping container parked on one of dozens of tractor-trailer rigs standing in an overflow lot of the recycling plant.
Police had combed the plant twice before, as Card was believed to have worked there in the past, Sauschuck said. But searchers initially overlooked the extra parking lot, occupied by 50 to 60 cargo trailers, some of them full of crushed plastic or metal, the commissioner said.
FROM CARNAGE TO NORMALCY
Card's body was dressed in what appeared to be the same brown sweatshirt a surveillance camera caught him wearing the night of the attack. Investigators would not say how long they believed Card had been dead.
The recycling facility is less than a mile from where police found Card's abandoned getaway vehicle shortly after the shooting spree.
A total of 18 people were killed and 13 wounded in Wednesday night's carnage, which began when the gunman opened fire with a rifle inside the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley. He launched another attack minutes later at Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant a few miles away.
Among the wounded, three were still in critical condition on Saturday, Sauschuck said.
The shootings and prolonged manhunt convulsed the normally bustling but serene community of Lewiston, a former textile hub and the second-most populous city in Maine, situated on the banks of the Androscoggin River.
Still, by Saturday afternoon, a measure of normalcy was restored to the postcard-like New England city. Residents were out shopping, children played on quiet, leafy streets, and Bates College students jogged around campus after two days of shelter-in-place orders rendered the community a ghost town.
On Saturday evening, hundreds of people from in and around Lewiston gathered on the riverfront in nearby Lisbon to grieve at a candlelight vigil. Attendees prayed together and softly sang "Amazing Grace."
“I hope this community can heal and move forward,” said Pam Hill, a traveling home-care nurse from Georgia who has lived in the area for the past two months. She said she felt more at ease knowing Card was dead.
“It’s good to know that I can get out and drive around and not be nervous about going from home to home to home,” she said.
NOTE LEFT FOR LOVED ONE
Another vigil was planned for Sunday, even as investigators continued to search for answers.
Officials said they recovered a rifle in Card's abandoned white Subaru and two guns with his body. All the weapons were apparently purchased by Card legally, a representative for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.
Officials have yet to offer a possible motive for the violence, though Sauschuck elaborated on a note that police previously said was found at Card's house. They said it was addressed by the suspect to a loved one and listed the passcode to Card's phone and bank account information.
"I wouldn't describe it as an explicit suicide note, but the tone and tenor was that the individual was not going to be around," he said.
Sauschuck said investigators had determined the tragedy had "a mental health component". He cited evidence Card suffered from paranoia and "felt like people were talking about him," factors that might have led him to target the venues he attacked.
A Maine law enforcement bulletin circulated this week identified Card as a trained firearms instructor at the U.S. Army Reserve base in Saco, Maine. It said he had reported hearing voices and had other mental health issues.
He also had threatened to shoot up the National Guard base in Saco and was "reported to have been committed to (a) mental health facility for two weeks during summer 2023 and subsequently released," according to the bulletin from the Maine Information & Analysis Center, a unit of the Maine State Police.
Sauschuck said on Saturday that officials had no evidence Card was ever "forcibly committed" for mental illness treatment, and still looking into any voluntary treatment he may have received.
Navy veteran Phil Bickett, 82, out buying groceries in Lewiston on Saturday, said he was grateful the manhunt was over but frustrated the suspect would never face justice.
“I hate to see him taking himself out because there’s no real justice in shooting yourself,” Bickett said. “Anyway, it’s over. That's a good thing.”
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Lewiston, Maine; Additional reporting by Julia Harte and Jonathan Allen in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Diane Craft, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis)