LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — A man shot and killed at least 16 people at a restaurant and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, and then fled into the night, sparking a massive search by hundreds of officers while frightened residents in multiple communities stayed locked in their homes Thursday under a shelter-in-place advisory.
A police bulletin identified Robert Card, 40, as a person of interest in the attack that sent panicked bowlers scrambling behind pins when shots rang out around 7 p.m. Wednesday. Card was described as a firearms instructor believed to be in the Army Reserve and assigned to a training facility in Saco, Maine.
The document, circulated to law enforcement officials, said Card had been committed to a mental health facility for two weeks in the summer of 2023. It did not provide details about his treatment or condition but said Card had reported “hearing voices and threats to shoot up” the military base. A telephone number listed for Card in public records was not in service.
Lewiston Police said in an earlier Facebook post that they were dealing with an active shooter incident at Schemengees Bar and Grille and at Sparetime Recreation, a bowling alley about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) away. A number of parents and children were at Sparetime as part of a children’s bowling league.
Ten-year-old Zoey Levesque, who was there with her mother, told WMTW-TV she was grazed by a bullet.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I had never thought I’d grow up and get a bullet in my leg. And it’s just like, why? Why do people do this?”
One bowler, who identified himself only as Brandon, said he heard about 10 shots, thinking the first was a balloon popping.
“I had my back turned to the door. And as soon as I turned and saw it was not a balloon — he was holding a weapon — I just booked it,” he told The Associated Press.
Brandon said he scrambled down the length of the alley, sliding into the pin area and climbing up to hide in the machinery. He was among a busload of survivors who were driven to a middle school in the neighboring city of Auburn to be reunited with family and friends.
“I was putting on my bowling shoes when when it started. I’ve been barefoot for five hours,” he said.
The bowling alley is home to traditional tenpin bowling as well as candlepin, a variant of bowling found in New England. It’s located about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the Bates College campus, on the outskirts of downtown. The alley has a small bar and is popular for local bowling leagues and children’s parties.
Melinda Small, the owner of Legends Sports Bar and Grill, said her staff immediately locked their doors and moved all 25 customers and employees away from the doors after a customer reported hearing about the shooting at the bowling alley less than a quarter-mile away. Soon, the police flooded the roadway and a police officer eventually escorted everyone out of the building.
“I am honestly in a state of shock. I am blessed that my team responded quickly and everyone is safe,” Small said. “But at the same time, my heart is broken for this area and for what everyone is dealing with. I just feel numb.”
After the shooting, police, many armed with rifles, took up positions while the city descended into eerie quiet — punctuated by occasional sirens — as people hunkered down at home. Schools as far away as Kennebunk, an hour from Lewiston, reported closing out of caution on Thursday.
The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office released two photos of the suspect on its Facebook page that showed the shooter walking into an establishment with a weapon raised to his shoulder.
Two law enforcement officials told The AP that at least 16 people were killed and the toll was expected to rise. However, Michael Sauschuck, commissioner of the Maine Department of Public Safety, declined to provide a specific estimate at a news conference, calling it a “fluid situation.” State police planned to hold a midmorning news conference Thursday.
The two law enforcement officials said dozens of people also had been wounded. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
On its website, Central Maine Medical Center said staff were “reacting to a mass casualty, mass shooter event” and were coordinating with area hospitals to take in patients. The hospital was locked down and police, some armed with rifles, stood by the entrances.
Meanwhile, hospitals as far away as Portland, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the south, were on alert to potentially receive victims.
Lewiston, the second largest city in Maine with a population of 37,000, emerged as a major center for African immigration into Maine. The Somali population, which numbers in the thousands, has changed the demographics of the once overwhelmingly white mill city into one of the most diverse in northern New England.
A shelter-in-place advisory was issued Wednesday night for Androscoggin County. That included the community of Lisbon, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) away, after a “vehicle of interest” was found there, authorities said. It was extended Thursday to Bowdoin, which is in Sagadachoc County.
Gov. Janet Mills released a statement echoing instructions for people to shelter. President Joe Biden spoke by phone to Mills and the state’s Senate and House members, offering “full federal support in the wake of this horrific attack,” a White House statement said.
Wednesday’s death toll was staggering for a state that in 2022 had 29 homicides the entire year.
Maine doesn’t require permits to carry guns, and the state has a longstanding culture of gun ownership that is tied to its traditions of hunting and sport shooting.
Some recent attempts by gun control advocates to tighten the state’s gun laws have failed. Proposals to require background checks for private gun sales and create a 72-hour waiting period for gun purchases failed earlier this year. Proposals that focused on school security and banning bump stocks failed in 2019.
State residents have also voted down some attempts to tighten gun laws in Maine. A proposal to require background checks for gun sales failed in a 2016 public vote.
Associated Press journalists Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, Michael Balsamo in New York, Darlene Superville in Washington, Michael Casey in Boston and Holly Ramer and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.