A police officer searches along railroad tracks near the Androscoggin River for the suspect in this week's deadly mass shootings, Friday, in Lisbon, Maine. The manhunt continues for the man who killed at least 18 in separate shootings at a bowling alley and restaurant in Lewiston on Wednesday. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

With every hour that the Lewiston manhunt stretches on, it becomes more clear how different it is from others in recent memory.

The search for the suspect, Robert R. Card II, 40, has taken police from the crime scenes in Lewiston to a Lisbon boat launch, his family home in Bowdoin, the Androscoggin River and Durham after 18 people were killed and 13 more injured during the shootings on Wednesday night.

But as time passes, experts worry the search grows more complicated and the likelihood of finding him alive diminishes.

In addition to being frustrating and frightening for Mainers who demand answers and closure, the ever-lengthening manhunt also underscores how unusual the Lewiston mass shooting — the worst in Maine’s history — is when compared with others.

Several criminology experts agreed the perpetrator in most mass shooting cases don’t make it out alive, and often, they don’t plan to. The shooters usually take their own lives, or are killed by police or a bystander at the end of their rampage.

In the 109 public mass shootings — defined by killing four or more people — in the U.S. since 2006, the perpetrators didn’t make it out of the event alive in 60 percent of the cases, according to James Alan Fox, a sociology professor at Northeastern who helped compile a database of mass killings in the U.S. from 2006 to today.

“Perpetrators plan everything — where they’re going to kill, what ammo they’ll use, even what they’ll wear,” Fox said. “Many don’t expect to live past the assault. This individual [in the Lewiston case] seemed to be strategic and he had a plan in place.”

Gunmen who escape the scene are usually caught within 24 hours, Fox said.

Dylann Roof was caught the morning after he shot and killed nine people at a historic African-American in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

The 2018 search for Nikolas Cruz ended an hour after he fled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida after he opened fire there, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others.

In the 2022 Highland Park, Illinois mass shooting that killed seven and wounded 48, police arrested the suspect, Robert Crimo III, eight hours later in Wisconsin.  

Maine, however, has seen three prominent manhunts within the last 20 years that all lasted well beyond the 24-hour threshold.

In 2018, John D. Williams led federal, state and local law enforcement on a four-day manhunt after he shot and killed Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole. Williams was found in a heavily wooded part of central Maine less than five miles from where Cole’s body was found.

Federal fugitive Wayne Collamore was apprehended in Owls Head Light State Park two weeks after he escaped from a Portland halfway house in 2010.

Robert Burton, however, holds the record for the longest manhunt in modern Maine history. He turned himself in to the Piscataquis County Sheriff office in 2015 after 65 days on the run.  He was wanted for murder in connection with the death of his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ginn Gebo, whose body was discovered in her Parkman home.

First, the fact that Maine is a large but sparsely populated state with rough terrain and plenty of places to hide could help a shooter evade police, Fox said. It’s also easier to flee without detection at night.

While most shooters start a rampage knowing it’s their last act, it seems the gunman in this case planned for a quick exit and “chose the right place and time,” said Dr. Karyn Sporer, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Maine who specializes in criminology and criminal justice.

“There’s a lot of covered land where there are trail systems and water he can access,” Sporer said. “It’s also warm out, so he’s not restricted by the weather. He’s not fighting to survive in the unfriendly wilderness.”

Despite these factors working for Card and against police, Sporer said she believes the nation’s best law enforcement who are trained in tracking and finding violent offenders are in Maine working on this case.

That work, however, must move slowly because Card is “a motivated offender with reportedly tactical experience,” she said. This means police must prepare for the worst at every turn and are doing everything they can to minimize potential harm to the public.

Additionally, most of law enforcement’s information and search plans need to remain hidden from the public so their intelligence and plans don’t fall into the hands of the wrong person.

“Police are doing things we don’t even know they’re capable of doing, and it needs to be that way,” she said.  “These search strategies are methodical and involve a lot of intelligence gathering. They can’t just run in the door like we see in the movies.”

If Card is alive, Sporer said she believes he’ll be caught at some point because, wherever he might go, there are people with cameras on their phones who know his face and name. She also doesn’t believe he could survive in the wilderness forever.

“If he’s alive, I think he’ll be found, but the longer we go, the harder it is to find him because the investigation zone gets wider,” Sporer said. “Homing in on his location at this point is almost impossible.”

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...