A sheriff in Maine says he sent an alert to all law enforcement agencies in the state last month after learning that an Army reservist had made threats against his base, a notification that came weeks before the reservist fatally shot 18 people in America’s deadliest mass shooting this year.
Sheriff Joel Merry of Sagadahoc County said he sent the alert sometime in September in an effort to find the reservist, Robert R. Card II, 40, who was said to have made threats regarding the Army Reserve center in Saco, Maine. He said he sent a deputy to Mr. Card’s home but that the deputy did not find him there, prompting the sheriff to send out the notice.
The revelation is the strongest sign yet that law enforcement was aware that Mr. Card was a potential danger before he carried out a rampage at a bowling alley and bar in Lewiston on Wednesday night.
“The guys, from what I know, paid due diligence to this and did attempt to locate Mr. Card and they couldn’t,” Sheriff Merry said in an interview on Saturday night.
The Maine Department of Public Safety, which had led a two-day manhunt for Mr. Card before he was found dead in a trailer at a recycling plant on Friday night, did not respond to requests for comment. The Associated Press first reported on the sheriff’s alert.
Sheriff Merry declined to comment in detail about the reported threats, and it was unclear whether any other departments that received the sheriff’s alert had tried to locate Mr. Card. It was not immediately clear how often such alerts are issued; two law enforcement leaders in Maine said on Saturday that they receive many and did not recall receiving the alert about Mr. Card.
The Army’s public affairs office in the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday night. Mr. Card enlisted in the Reserve in 2002 and was trained as a petroleum supply specialist, whose work involved shipping and storing fuel; he did not serve on any combat deployments.
Earlier on Saturday, the commissioner of the public safety department said that Mr. Card had been paranoid and may have been hearing voices. The commissioner, Michael J. Sauschuck, suggested that Mr. Card had most likely been to the bowling alley and bar before, and may have carried out the attack in part because he falsely believed that “people were talking about him.”
“There’s paranoia, there’s some conspiracy theorist piece,” Mr. Sauschuck said.
During a recent visit to a National Guard training facility outside Peekskill, N.Y., Mr. Card had a run-in with officials and was later evaluated at a mental health facility, according to a senior law enforcement official. Mr. Sauschuck said he had no information to suggest that Mr. Card had ever been forcibly committed for mental health treatment.
Mr. Card had legally purchased several guns, including some days before the attack, according to Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ field division in Boston.
In Maine, officers must seek a medical professional’s opinion in order to take weapons away from people who are suffering mental difficulties and are considered a danger to themselves or others. That’s more stringent than some states with so-called red flag laws that allow the police or the public to petition for the temporary removal of a person’s guns.
Following the shootings, Mr. Card fled toward the Androscoggin River, the police said, abandoning his car about a 15-minute drive from the bar that he had just attacked. A two-day manhunt followed, with the state issuing a shelter-in-place order affecting thousands of residents.
During that time, the police twice searched a recycling plant where Mr. Card had previously worked, near where he abandoned his car. But they did not realize that a dirt lot across the street that held dozens of trailers was part of the property. When they searched the trailers, they found him inside one, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In addition to the 18 people killed, 13 were wounded. Three remain in critical condition.
Shaila Dewan, John Ismay, Serge F. Kovaleski and Amelia Nierenberg contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.