In Emotional Hearing, Maine Shooter’s Relatives Describe Efforts to Get Him Psychiatric Help

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Family members of the Army reservist who killed 18 people last fall in Lewiston, Maine, opened up on Thursday about their grief, remorse and anger in testimony before the commission investigating the shooting.

Frequently struggling to maintain their composure, relatives of the gunman, Robert R. Card II, apologized to the families of his victims and shared wrenching accounts of the months leading up to the shooting, when they repeatedly tried to get help for the troubled 40-year-old as his mental health deteriorated.

Nicole Herling, Mr. Card’s sister, addressed some of her most pointed remarks to the Army and Defense Department, calling for a clearer, more accessible system for families of military members to share concerns with their supervisors. Ms. Herling also said that the military should provide more education about the risk of brain injury to soldiers and reservists like her brother.

Mr. Card, a longtime Army Reserve grenade instructor, was exposed to thousands of blasts in his years of training cadets; trauma detected in his brain by scientists after his death has raised questions about the effects of the repeated exposures on his mental health.

“I brought the helmet that was meant to safeguard my brother’s brain,” Ms. Herling said on Thursday, placing a camouflage-patterned helmet on the table before her in a room on the University of Maine campus in Augusta. “To the Department of Defense: It failed.”

The Army and Defense Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Army has previously said that it is “committed to understanding, mitigating, accurately diagnosing, and promptly treating blast overpressure and its effects in all forms.”

The seven-member Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston has met regularly since November, pressing law enforcement and Army officials to explain why and how their interventions fell short as Mr. Card’s paranoia and erratic behavior escalated.

The commission’s interim report, issued in March, found that the local Sheriff’s Department had “sufficient probable cause” to take Mr. Card into custody and seize his weapons before the shooting on Oct. 25. On that day, the authorities say, Mr. Card used an assault rifle to kill 18 people and wound 13 more at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston. After a two-day manhunt, he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Maine legislators have passed several new gun-control laws in recent weeks, including one requiring a waiting period for private gun sales and another revising the state’s “yellow flag” law to give the police a more direct route for taking potentially dangerous individuals into protective custody.

Lawmakers did not vote on a proposal for a “red flag” law, which experts said would have provided family members a clear path to seek the removal of weapons from relatives whose mental health they were concerned about.

On Thursday, Mr. Card’s family members described their efforts to convince him that he needed help, and their attempts to alert others to his unstable state. Ms. Herling said she left multiple phone messages at the Army Reserve training center in Saco, Maine, before the shooting happened, seeking help in tracking down her brother’s supervisors so that she could share concerns about his state of mind. Most of those calls were not returned, she said.

Ms. Herling also recalled asking an operator on a national mental health crisis help line if she could “blue paper” her brother, or have him involuntarily committed, and being told that she could not unless he threatened someone.

Similarly, Mr. Card’s ex-wife, Cara Lamb, testified that when she asked staff members at her son’s school what could be done to intervene last May, they told her there was “only so much” anyone could do until Mr. Card made explicit threats.

“It’s on all of us to make sure the next time we need to get help for someone, we do better,” she said.

Family members also described their disappointment when Mr. Card was released from a psychiatric hospital in New York last summer after two weeks, and when his follow-up care was handed off to his mother, who was coping with her own health problems.

“It was a huge relief for us when he was taken to the hospital, because we thought he would finally get the help he needed,” said James Herling, Mr. Card’s brother-in-law. “We thought he would be there for 30 days, but we believed if they were releasing him he must have been assessed to be stable and safe.”

Also handed off to the family was the daunting task of seizing Mr. Card’s weapons, after the local sheriff’s office tried unsuccessfully to check on his mental health in September. The office then determined that his family was in the best position to take his guns away, a decision that the commission previously condemned as an “abdication” of its responsibility. On Thursday, family members testified that Mr. Card had largely stopped communicating with them by that point.

They also said that they were never told that Mr. Card had made threats that month, reported to supervisors by a fellow reservist, to shoot up the Army Reserve base.

“We never knew there was a threat to shoot anyone,” Katie Card, his sister-in-law, told the commission. “We’d have gathered everyone and gone over there and would not have left without the guns.”

“A lot of responsibility was placed on your family,” Debra Baeder, a commission member, told her, adding that “you bear no responsibility for what happened.”

Like other family members, Ms. Card grew tearful, her voice at times shrinking to a whisper, as she struggled to describe the pain they have navigated since the shooting, their guilt and shame over their failure to do more, and their amazement at the community’s kindness.

“Meals, for months, arrived at our doors and fed our children when I couldn’t,” she recounted. “The gift of love was given when we thought we least deserved it.”

Addressing the families who lost loved ones, she said, “I will pray for you all every night for the rest of my life.”



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