LEWISTON, Maine — Outside the bowling alley targeted by a mass shooter last week, President Joe Biden told Lewiston “you’re not alone” in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in state history.
The president and his wife, Jill Biden, were set to spend roughly four hours in Lewiston on Friday. The Democrat’s remarks came after a meeting with first responders at another shooting site that has become a memorial to victims. Afterward, Biden was set for private meetings with victims and their families.
Biden’s visit came nine days after the Lewiston shooting, and it was a reminder of the scale of the carnage. Eighteen people died and another 13 were injured Oct. 25 in what was the 10th-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and the deadliest ever in Maine, long known as one of the safest states in the country despite having some of its loosest gun laws.
“Jill and I are here on behalf of the American people to grieve with you and make sure you know that you’re not alone,” said the president, who spoke alongside Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District.
The president focused on victims more than policy on the visit, though he made a vague reference to a need for “responsible measures” to protect families. He issued a statement right after the shooting calling for gun control measures. They included bans on so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as expanding background check requirements.
There is growing scrutiny around the months of warning signs preceding the Lewiston attacks. The shooter, 40-year-old Robert R. Card II of Bowdoin, was an Army reservist who sparked two reports to local police dating back to May. They never made contact with him despite a fellow soldier’s fears that Card would “snap and do a mass shooting.”
The lead-up to the shooting is the subject of two Army investigations. Mills said Wednesday she will assemble a panel to investigate the events before the shooting and the two-day search for Card that locked down the region until he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Lisbon. A sheriff’s deputy accused the Maine State Police of mismanaging the search.
These kinds of visits are becoming a somber routine for Biden. This mass shooting marked the fifth during his tenure in which 10 or more Americans have been killed. The Lewiston shooting was the deadliest since one last year at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Since Card’s body was found, the community has mourned while trying to return to some semblance of normalcy. Lewiston High School’s football team played its rivalry game against Edward Little of Auburn on Wednesday with a national anthem sung by James Taylor.
Two of the first funerals for victims Tricia Asselin and Ronald Morin were held on Friday before Biden came to Maine. The president was expected to spend roughly two hours with survivors of the shooting and families of the victims at a Lewiston school after his short speech.
“The road to healing will be long, but we will heal together,” Mills said.
Ahead of Biden’s arrival, dozens of young Lewiston residents were passing out ribbons and signing a large “Lewiston Strong” poster outside the Tree Street Youth Center on Howe Street.
Anyone was welcome to pick up a bundle of 18 ribbons — one for each victim killed — and a small slip of paper with instructions to tie the ribbons around utility poles, trees or lamp posts in the city, take a moment to remember the losses, and return 18 days later to take them down.
Julia Sleeper, the youth center’s executive director, said the young people she works with came up with the idea while talking about the shootings and trying to catalyze them.
“We just said, ‘Well, we need more love,” Sleeper said. “You feel so helpless when something like this happens.”