Residents of Maine gather to pray, days after mass shooting

Oct 29, 2023, 12:03 PM

Parishioners pray during the Holy Cross Church service on October 29, 2023 in Lewiston, Maine. Duri...

Parishioners pray during the Holy Cross Church service on October 29, 2023 in Lewiston, Maine. During the church service, the Co-pastor, Thaniyel Raja, asked for people to pray for those affected when Robert Card killed 18 people in two separate locations on Wednesday night. (Joe Raedle /Getty Images)

(Joe Raedle /Getty Images)

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Church bells rang Sunday as Maine residents gathered at somber and sometimes joyful services to pray and support one another following a traumatic week in which a fellow Mainer gunned down 18 people in the worst mass killing in state history.

The Rev. Daniel Greenleaf began services at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston with a moment of silence. Then, he told the congregation that it was good to be able to finally pray together after days of lockdown imposed while police searched for the 40-year-old gunman Robert Card.

The body of Card was found Friday in a trailer at a recycling center in Lisbon Falls. Card died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, but it was unclear when, authorities said. Card is suspected of also injuring 13 people during the shooting rampage on Wednesday night in Lewiston.

Several women wore black veils in the cavernous sanctuary, where a church official said they are raising funds to help shooting victims and others hurt by “the horrible events in our small town.”

“We can see the rays of light in darkness,” Greenleaf said during his sermon. He told the worshippers that it is times like this that they have “practiced” their faith for.

“We cannot fix this, but then again human beings are not machines to be fixed,” Greenleaf said.

At Lisbon Falls Baptist Church, the mood was upbeat as church members arrived and greeted each other. But the atmosphere became somber when the Rev. Brian Ganong referenced the tragedy. He prayed for the victims fighting for their lives, those who lost family and friends, first responders and medical workers, and others — including the Card family, who he said had ties to some members of the church.

“It did happen. We may never know the reason why,” he said, encouraging the congregation to seek solace through a higher being.

After the service, Ganong said it “took one person” to shatter the community’s “sense of peace and security.”

“They feel violated, right? They feel intruded upon. This has infringed upon their safety,” he said. “But I understand that we live in a world that is evil. And it was probably a matter of time before it infringed upon us.”

Standing outside the basilica after attending early Mass, Marcel Roy said the last few days have been painful but that he’s hopeful the community can being the long process of healing.

“This feels good,” Roy said as the church bells rang.

The 70-year-old Lewiston resident said that he knew four of the shooting victims and is praying for them as well as the shooter.

“I can’t hate the guy,” he said of the gunman. “He wasn’t brought up as a killer.”

Authorities recovered a multitude of weapons during their search for Card and believe he had legally purchased his guns, including those recovered in his car and near his body, said Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Boston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He declined to provide specific details about the guns, including their make and model, and wouldn’t say exactly how many were found.

Investigators are still searching for a motive for the massacre, but have increasingly been focused on Card’s mental health history. State Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck said Card had been hearing voices and had paranoia.

Card believed “people were talking about him and there may even have been some voices at play,” Sauschuck said.

Family members of Card told federal investigators that he had recently discussed hearing voices and became more focused on the bowling alley and bar, according to law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the investigation.

On Saturday, street life began returning to Lewiston in the city of 37,000. Police missed two clear opportunities to end the lockdown sooner, after failing to find Card’s body in searches of the recycling center Thursday night and early Friday.

For many residents it was a day to reflect, mourn and, for some, take the first tentative steps toward normalcy. Some went hunting on the opening day of firearm season for deer, and one family handed out buckets of flowers in downtown. Others gathered at a makeshift memorial to the victims down the street from the bar targeted by Card.

William Brackett, whose namesake son was among those killed, visited the memorial Saturday and said he could feel pent up tension leave his body when he learned Card was dead.

“I’m telling you, if I had a bottle of champagne, I would’ve popped it and celebrated,” he said.

Billy Brackett was shot multiple times and died on the way to the hospital, his father said. He said his son didn’t let his deafness stop him from doing anything in life, including playing multiple sports.

“He was just a gentle person. He was big and rugged, and I guess maybe that’s why all the little kids loved him. They swarmed to a bigger person,” Brackett said. “Maybe they thought, ‘He’ll be our protector.'”

The deadliest shootings in Maine history stunned a state of 1.3 million people that has relatively little violent crime and had only 29 killings in all of 2022.

Three patients remained in critical condition at Central Maine Medical Center, and a fourth was stable, hospital officials said. Another patient was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the rest were discharged.

A stay-at-home order in place during the massive search was lifted Friday afternoon, hours before authorities announced they had found Card’s body at the Maine Recycling Corp.

The Lewiston shootings were the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to a database maintained by AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. The database includes every mass killing since 2006 from all weapons in which four or more people, excluding the offender, were killed within a 24-hour time frame.
Associated Press journalists David R. Martin and Matt Rourke in Lewiston, Maine and Michael Casey in Boston contributed.

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Residents of Maine gather to pray, days after mass shooting