Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Wednesday her intent to form an “independent commission of experts” in the coming days to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding last week’s horrific mass shooting in Lewiston.
Gov. Mills said that the commission will be comprised of “independent experts” from legal, investigative, and mental health backgrounds.
The commission’s investigation, according to a Mills Administration press release, will cover events in the months preceding the shooting as well as the police response to the shooting.
Mills referenced the multiple occasions over the last ten months in which concerns over the Lewiston shooter Robert R. Card Jr.’s mental health were brought to the attention of his Army National Reserve Unit as well as law enforcement agencies in Maine and New York.
“This raises crucial questions about actions taken and what more could have been done to prevent this tragedy from occurring,” Mills said.
Reports from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) reveal that police unsuccessfully attempted to conduct a welfare check on Robert Card in mid-September due to a complaint from the Maine National Guard regarding Card’s mental health.
The Maine National Guard described instances where Card had apparent psychotic episodes and believed his fellow soldiers were calling him a pedophile, leading to at least two incidents where he assaulted his fellow soldiers.
The complaint also described how Card had been “making threats to shoot up the Saco National Guard facility,” and had been committed to a psychiatric hospital for 14 days over the summer due to his “altered mental state.”
Card’s ex-wife and son had told the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Mt. Ararat High School in May that Card had been hearing voices as early as January of this year.
Card’s relatives told the officer that the family “is aware of Robert’s deteriorating mental health, but their efforts have been in vain as Robert in in denial,” as well as that they feared Robert Card knowing that they had gone to police “for fear it will aggravate the situation.”
After the unsuccessful welfare check by SCSO on Card on Sept. 15, law enforcement contacted Robert Card’s brother Ryan in an attempt to make sure “Robert does not do anything to hurt himself of [sic] others.”
The SCSO report states that Ryan Card was asked to “make his own judgment as to whether Robert needs an evaluation,” and that law enforcement were later contacted by Ryan and his father saying that “they would work to ensure Robert does not have access to any firearms.”
A report from the Maine Attorney General’s Office on previous cases of the state’s “yellow flag” law being used to restrict access to firearms for individuals with mental health issues shows several individuals who made less severe threats and exhibited similar behavior to Card had their firearms removed.
Although the Maine State Police are conducting their own criminal investigation into the shooting, Mills explained Wednesday that “the gravity of this attack on our people – an attack that strikes at the core of who we are and the values we hold dear – demands a higher level of scrutiny.”
The inclusion of mental health experts on Gov. Mills’ commission may give insight into how Maine’s yellow flag law failed in the case of Robert Card, as well as give a clearer account of his two-week commitment to a psychiatric hospital and what mental health treatment he received.