Mainers statewide were horrified and heartbroken, but not surprised, to hear of a man opening fire in two locations in Lewiston Wednesday night, killing 18 people and injuring 13.
The manhunt for Robert Card, 40, who has been identified as a suspect in the investigation, was still underway as of 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, and state police warned he should be considered armed and dangerous. Several Maine communities are under a shelter-in-place order.
News of the mass shooting, which is the deadliest in Maine, sent shockwaves through the state that typically enjoys one of the country’s lowest crime rates despite having relatively lax gun laws.
Maine residents across the state said the shooting and ongoing manhunt shattered their sense of safety. Some residents, however, said they weren’t surprised to hear a mass shooting had hit so close to home, and gun control advocates reignited calls for stronger state and federal gun control laws.
“In Maine, families go to bed with our doors unlocked because we think nothing bad could happen here,” said Kristen Gingrich, a Westbrook-based licensed clinical social worker. “Our communities are built on generations of families that are intertwined. I live a half-hour away from Lewiston, and still I know someone who knows someone who was involved.”
When Michael Rocque first heard rumors of a mass shooting, he assumed someone had merely threatened violence because “we’ve never had something like this.”
“Our worst fears have become reality, and we still don’t know the full extent of it,” said Rocque, an associate professor of sociology at Bates College in Lewiston and an expert on criminology.
Rocque’s heartbreak and concern for those in the Bates community soon turned to feelings of helplessness as he watched the manhunt for Card wear on, while Bates students continued to remain under lockdown.
While Maine has seen other mass shootings — which are defined as shootings in which four or more people died — Rocque said those have been private, targeted events in which the perpetrator seeks out particular victims that they know. He pointed to the case in Bowdoin last spring in which 34-year-old Joseph Eaton was charged with killing four people: his parents and his parents’ friends.
However, public mass shootings in which someone goes to a location to cause harm to whoever happens to be there are unheard of in Maine — until now.
But Maine’s luck in avoiding mass public shootings doesn’t mean the state is immune to them, Rocque said.
The tragedy is especially frustrating and devastating for people who have advocated for adopting policies, like an assault weapons ban, that would help prevent mass shootings, Rocque said.
“Just because Maine hadn’t had a mass shooting yet doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands,” said Rocque, who also worked as a principal investigator on a federally funded investigation of mass shootings between 1976 and 2018.
Despite the widespread grief and fear Mainers are feeling in the wake of the shooting, Rocque said he hopes Mainers don’t believe Maine or Lewiston is unsafe.
“Mass shootings happen often in small towns and places with low crime rates,” he said. “They’re very rare, even when they seem like they’re happening every day.”
When Matt McTicghe, a York resident and chief operating officer of Everytown for Gun Safety, heard about the Lewiston shootings, he said he felt heartbreak, concern, fear and frustration for those involved, but he couldn’t say he was surprised.
“Every time we hear of a mass shooting in a shopping mall, church, nightclub or school the people in the community say, ‘This never happens here,’” McTicghe said. “Mass shootings have continued to go up and up since the national assault weapons ban was rolled back in 2004. That tells us we need to do something.”
Everywhere he went today, from his job as a volunteer firefighter in York to picking up groceries, McTicghe said everyone he encountered could only speak of the events in Lewiston and how they feel on edge.
While bringing the shooter to justice should remain the state’s first priority, McTicghe said he hopes to see local lawmakers enact an extreme risk law, which would allow people to petition a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. He’d also like to see Congress reinstate a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough — we need action,” he said. “I absolutely think this will have a long-term effect unless and until Governor Mills, the state Legislature and federal lawmakers do something to prevent these preventable tragedies.”
Bangor City Councilor Cara Pelletier said the mass shooting in Lewiston has stripped Maine of the illusion that the state, sometimes called “a big small town,” is removed from tragedies involving widespread violence.
Though Pelletier’s immediate focus is on how Bangor and its resources can assist the city of Lewiston, she said her long-term hope is that the event will spur the state to strengthen its gun laws and bolster mental health resources.
“There’s no good outcome in an event like this, but if this can be a catalyst for us to make better decisions and gun laws in Maine, I would be in full support of that,” she said.