LEWISTON (Maine) — Hundreds of police fanned out across the state of Maine hunting for a man wanted in connection with mass shootings at a bar and a bowling alley in the town of Lewiston, as news outlets reported a death toll ranging from 16 to 22, with dozens more wounded.
Officials said there were multiple casualties in the shootings on Wednesday (Oct 25) but declined to provide figures.
State and local police identified Robert R. Card, 40, who reportedly had been committed to a mental health facility over the summer, as a person of interest in the case.
Earlier, they posted on Facebook photographs of a bearded man in a brown hoodie and jeans at one of the crime scenes, holding what appeared to be a semi-automatic rifle in the firing position.
“We have literally hundreds of police officers working around the state of Maine to investigate this case to locate Mr Card, who is a person of interest,” Maine Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck told a news conference.
Police found a white SUV they believe Card drove to the town of Lisbon, about 11km to the southeast, and Mr Sauschuck said people were asked to remain indoors in both Lewiston and Lisbon.
Several media reported that a Maine law enforcement bulletin identified Card as a trained firearms instructor and member of the US Army reserve who recently reported that he had mental health issues, including hearing voices. It also said he threatened to shoot up a National Guard base.
“Card was also reported to have been committed to mental health facility for two weeks during summer 2023 and subsequently released,” said the notice from the Maine Information & Analysis Center.
Reuters could not authenticate the bulletin. The Associated Press reported it was circulated to law enforcement officials.
The army did not immediately respond to requests for information about Card, including details on his service record.
The bloodshed rocked the largely rural state of Maine in the northeastern corner of the US bordering Canada.
Police said gunfire first broke out shortly before 7pm local time (7am Thursday, Singapore time). The bar and the bowling alley are about 6.5km apart.
Lewiston is a former textile hub and town of 38,000 people in Androscoggin County about 56km north of Maine’s largest city, Portland.
“A recreation centre. A bowling alley. A neighborhood bar. Places Americans frequent and should feel safe… these are the crime scenes of multiple shootings tonight in Maine,” said Ms Kris Brown, president of Brady, a gun safety advocacy group, in a statement.
Maine lacks several major types of gun safety laws, including assault weapons regulation, universal background checks, and “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily disarm people legally deemed dangerous, according to Ms Brady.
At a reunification centre in Lewiston’s “sister city” Auburn, just across the Androscoggin River, some families were discovering that relatives who had been at the bar and bowling alley had been killed in the shooting, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque told reporters.
Officials were interviewing witnesses of the shooting “of all ages” at an undisclosed safe location on Wednesday night, Mr Levesque said.
US President Joe Biden was been briefed and will continue to receive updates, a US official said in Washington.
The president spoke by phone individually to Maine Governor Janet Mills, Senators Angus King and Susan Collins, and Congressman Jared Golden about the shooting in Lewiston and offered full federal support in the wake of the attack, the White House said.
The range of estimated fatalities would be on par with the number of homicides that normally occur in Maine in any given year. The number of annual homicides in the state has fluctuated between 16 and 29 since 2012, according to Maine State Police.
The number of US shootings in which four or more people were shot has surged since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020, with 647 occurring in 2022 and 679 projected to occur in 2023, based on trends as of July, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
The deadliest modern US mass shooting on record is the massacre of 58 people by a gunman firing on a Las Vegas country music festival from a high-rise hotel perch in 2017. REUTERS