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AUGUSTA, Maine — Police have used Maine’s “yellow flag” law at least 13 times since last month’s mass shooting in Lewiston, including three cases in the past few days in which suicidal people referenced the gunman by name.
Those serious cases could provide evidence of a “copycat” effect that has long been observed following high-profile mass shootings across the country. Two of those three cases were in the Lewiston area, although a police spokesperson said the one that happened in the city involved someone with no particular ties to the region.
The law, which allows police to take weapons away from people deemed dangerous by a medical professional and a judge, has been used often since the shooting. It is also in the spotlight because a sheriff’s office did not use it in September after seeing evidence that the shooter, 40-year-old Robert R. Card II of Bowdoin, was increasingly delusional and armed.
Card killed 18 people and injured another 13 at a Lewiston bowling alley and bar on Oct. 25 in Maine’s deadliest mass shooting and the 10th deadliest such event in U.S. history. Police found him dead two days later in Lisbon after an unprecedented manhunt.
His name was invoked by three suicidal people in the past week, according to an updated list of yellow flag case tracked by the Maine Department of Public Safety. The document contains short descriptions of incidents but does not include identifying information.
On Friday, Auburn police used the law on a 20-year-old man who attempted suicide by stabbing himself and said he was going to be “the next Robert Card.” Police there did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A day later, Lewiston police found a 50-year-old man with a history of suicidal and homicidal ideations who said he would do what Card did but with a knife. He had no ties to the area but was the subject of a statewide notice whose vehicle was found in the city, according to Lt. Derrick St. Laurent, a police spokesperson. He didn’t know what kinds of weapons were seized.
The law was invoked four other times across the state on Saturday alone. The next day, Brunswick police encountered a 29-year-old man who had claimed he was being ordered to kill his parents or son. He also referenced Card.
These incidents came on top of a well-publicized incident in which an Etna man was arrested days after the shooting after allegedly taking a picture of himself with a gun and ammunition while sitting in the parking lot of the Palmyra Walmart and threatening “Lewiston Part 2.”
All of these could be construed as copycat cases. In the two weeks after a mass shooting, the likelihood of another such event rises, according to a 2015 study from researchers at Arizona State and Northwestern universities finding increased contagion after high-profile shootings.
That body of research, as well the established literature on suicide contagion, led Michael Rocque, a sociology professor at Bates College focused on criminology, to not be surprised by the recent yellow flag events in Maine.
“It’s less clear how serious these threats are, though they all should be taken as such,” Rocque said.