Evidence of traumatic brain injury in shooter who killed 18 in deadliest shooting in Maine’s history

Deputy Matthew Noyes of the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office gives testimony Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Deputy Matthew Noyes of the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office gives testimony Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Augusta, Maine, during a hearing of the independent commission investigating the law enforcement response to the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — An Army reservist responsible for the worst gun massacre in Maine’s history had evidence of traumatic brain injuries before he shot and killed 18 people last year, according to a brain tissue analysis that was requested by the state’s chief medical examiner.

The revelations about Robert Card’s brain injuries became public just as Card’s former Army colleagues testified under oath Thursday to a special commission that’s investigating the killings.

Card, a 40-year-old Army reservist, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a two-day search. He had showed signs of mental health decline before the massacre; now, evidence shows that Card suffered from traumatic brain injuries, according to an analysis by Boston University researchers.

During Thursday’s commission hearing, 1st Sgt. Kelvin Mote, who is also a police officer, said he had used Maine’s yellow card law to remove someone’s weapons about a week before learning that Card had made threats.

Mote testified that he believed law enforcement could have legally removed Card’s weapons, as well, based on his declining mental health and threats he’d made. But he said he never mentioned the yellow card law to sheriff’s deputies who had been asked by the Army to perform a welfare check. Under the law, police needed to perform an assessment to start the process to seize weapons.

“They’re still going to have to do their own face-to-face to make sure they have probable cause,” Mote said.

The analysis of Card’s brain showed degeneration in the nerve fibers that allow for communication between different areas of the brain, inflammation and small blood vessel injury, according to Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center.

Card had been an instructor and had worked at an Army hand grenade training range, where it is believed he was exposed to repeated low-level blasts. It is unknown if that caused Card’s brain injury and what role brain injury played in Card’s decline in mental health in the months before he opened fire at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston on Oct. 25. McKee made no connection between the brain injury and Card’s violent actions.

“While I cannot say with certainty that these pathological findings underlie Mr. Card’s behavioral changes in the last 10 months of life, based on our previous work, brain injury likely played a role in his symptoms,” McKee said in the statement.

The Maine Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s office declined to comment on the results, which were released by Card’s family Wednesday. The brain tissue sample was sent to the lab last fall.

An Army spokesperson said via statement Thursday that the results are “concerning and underscore the Army’s need to do all it can to protect soldiers against blast-induced injury.” The statement said the Army was “updating guidance on how to mitigate risks from blast overpressure.”

In their first public comments since the shooting, Card’s family members apologized for the attack, saying they are heartbroken for the victims, survivors and their loved ones. A spokesperson for the commission said members of the family have met privately with commissioners.

“We are hurting for you and with you, and it is hard to put into words how badly we wish we could undo what happened,” they said in the statement. “While we cannot go back, we are releasing the findings of Robert’s brain study with the goal of supporting ongoing efforts to learn from this tragedy to ensure it never happens again.”

Police and the Army were both warned that Card was suffering from deteriorating mental health in the months that preceded the shootings.

Some of his relatives warned police that he was displaying paranoid behavior and they were concerned about his access to guns. Body camera video of police interviews with reservists before Card’s two-week hospitalization in upstate New York last summer also showed fellow reservists expressing worry and alarm about his behavior and weight loss.

Card was hospitalized in July after he shoved a fellow reservist and locked himself in a motel room during training. Later, in September, a fellow reservist told an Army superior he was concerned Card was going to “snap and do a mass shooting.” The reservist, Sean Hodgson, was not among those who testified Thursday.

Army reservists who knew Card testified on Thursday before a special commission established by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills about their recollections and actions before the shooting.

Some new things came to light. For example, Army Reserve Capt. Jeremy Reamer mentioned an incident in May in which there was an altercation or confrontation at a Home Depot involving Card where he accused people of saying things about him. Reamer said police were called but no charges were filed. He said he was told the family had an intervention for Card.

All five reservists who testified Thursday were also police officers, and one of them was involved in the search for Card after the shootings. Matthew Noyes told the commission that the search for the shooter was hampered by confusion and poor communications.

“I recognize this is a complex response and investigation. Unfortunately with this responsibility comes Monday morning quarterbacking,” said Noyes, a deputy in the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office.

Mote said his heart broke when he learned of the shootings — and that he was angry at Card.

“We’re soldiers. We protect and defend. I understand mental health issues. I get them. But you don’t hurt innocent people,” he said.

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Whittle reported from Portland.

Crime

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