Living downriver and across Merrymeeting Bay from accused mass murderer Robert Card II, the last couple days have been as filled with ill-winds for me as any Mainer. It was just Tuesday I was driving up and down Rt. 196, where Card ditched his Subaru Wednesday night. When I look at his face in photos, what terrifies me most is that he looks just like one of us.
After a large explosion, the oxygen is sucked out of the air for a moment and things feel like the eerily warm, low-pressure days we’re had this week. As we’re experiencing now in south-central Maine, the immediate fall-out from a mass shooting is quite similar — especially when overlaid with an ongoing manhunt.
In the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre in 2012, I sat in church in Washington, DC and stared at my co-congregant, then FBI Director Robert Mueller, and thought “my God, the weight now on this man’s shoulders, grant him the strength to do what must be done.” Subsequent irony aside, it was another such moment when we just sit slack-jawed and wonder what just hit us.
But unlike Newtown, where we were confronted with the spooky visage and other-worldly eyes of the young killer, in Card we see one of us.
My best friend just told me he coached her daughter’s friend’s soccer team. Facebook friends from the area are pushing back against the media narrative about the Card family. When the networks descend, our reality gets spoon-fed back to us as if through the looking glass.
Yet this man who looks like us, and for all appearances lives like us, has allegedly committed mass murder and cast a pall over the name of our state’s second biggest city. What can we know about the stranger who lives within?
Much will be made of the fact Card is an Army reservist. I was immediately relieved to learn that he was never deployed, because the necessary treatment of PTSD for combat vets needn’t be saddled with the stigma of the Lewiston shooter’s derangement. Yet the apparent failures of the “yellow flag” law to amount to action in Card’s case will also be getting plenty of scrutiny in the days ahead.
And, unsurprisingly, the issue of gun rights has already led to familiar voices making familiar demands. Second District Congressman Jared Golden just changed the whole dynamic of his re-election campaign by changing positions on AR-15s when to do so with his constituents at any moment before this week would have been political suicide. Now the race is likely to become a national battleground on the question of gun rights.
But it’s too early for any of this. We still know way too little, all we can do — unless we’re deputized by law enforcement and first responders — is just feel. That sense that we were different, that we’re kinder, better, nicer than those in the more violent corners of America has just been snatched from us like a blanket in the cold. And it is stunning.
More stunning, though, is Card’s familiarity. I feel I could have met him, spoken with him, crossed paths in any one of various ways in recent years. If I had, I would have nodded.
Now we wait. Mainers are not used to klieg lights, nor are we accustomed to being victims. But there is no posse to join. This is all seems so unnatural, and yet for the families of dozens and these communities, it is real and will haunt us for some time. After so many years of hunkering down in our respective bunkers, maybe now is the right time to really get to know our neighbors and each other. Just as the problem came from among us, the solution – ultimately – will be in our hands.