PORTLAND, Maine – A survivor and family members of those killed in the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to press for an inspector general to obtain answers from the Army about the mental health and hospitalization of a reservist who opened fire.
While representing varied political views, the families are united in seeking changes to ensure that what happened on Oct. 25 in Lewiston, Maine, doesn’t happen again somewhere else.
“This has to stop. We think we can stop it right here,” Leroy Walker, father of one of the victims, Joe Walker, told reporters in Washington. He was joined by his daughter-in-law, Tracey Walker, now a widow.
The group met privately with each member of Maine’s congressional delegation and, later, the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Two members also attended a vigil for gun violence victims at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church that included those affected by other mass shootings.
All told, 18 people were killed and 13 wounded when a 40-year-old Army reservist opened fire on Oct. 25 at a bowling alley and at a bar. The gunman died by suicide.
Making the trip to Washington was Alan Nickerson, who survived being shot, along with the Walkers; Arthur Barnard and Kristy Strout, father and widow, respectively, of Arthur “Artie” Strout; and Elizabeth Seal, widow of Joshua Seal, one of four deaf people killed.
The group wanted to tell their stories and press members of Congress to ensure that the Army fully answers questions about the gunman.
The gunman, Robert Card, spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital while training with his reserve unit last summer in West Point, New York, and his access to military weapons was restricted after he left the hospital. Fellow reservists continued to express concerns about him, with one writing “he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”
“If he was too dangerous and posed a threat to those on the military base, what obligations do the military have to protect those in the community the minute he stepped off the base?” said Travis Brennan, an attorney who accompanied the group.
Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, already have asked the U.S. Army inspector general to provide a full accounting of interactions with the reservist. So far, there has been no inspector general appointed, and the investigation has not yet begun.
In Maine, an independent commission is also investigating all aspects of the shootings, and it is seeking subpoena power to question the Army as well.
Collins said Thursday that the Army's actions should have triggered either New York's red flag law or Maine’s yellow flag law, both of which could have resulted in the removal of Card’s weapons because he “made threats and clearly posed a danger to others and to himself."
Both statutes allow weapons to be removed from someone in a mental health crisis, although there are differences between the two states’ laws.
“If it can’t be stopped here, it can’t be stopped anywhere. And that should worry all of us,” said Ben Gideon, another attorney, noting that the Army chain of command knew about Card’s mental health problems and concerns about a mass shooting.
Seal, who spoke through an American Sign Language interpreter, said the tragedy revealed multiple problems, including effective communication with members of the deaf community who were unable to get questions answered after the shooting.
Seal said she was encouraged by the meetings but wanted to see action. “Words are just words. I want to see them see it through,” she told reporters.
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