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Families of victims spell out questions they have for U.S. Army about Lewiston shooter’s history

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Families of victims spell out questions they have for U.S. Army about Lewiston shooter’s history

Dec 11, 2023 | 3:23 pm ET
By Lauren McCauley
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Families of victims spell out questions they have for U.S. Army about Lewiston shooter’s history
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A memorial to victims of the mass shooting in Lewiston outside Schemengees Bar and Grille. (via First Lady Jill Biden/ Twitter)

During their visit with Maine’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. last week, the families of some of those killed and one survivor of the Lewiston mass shooting said they still have many unanswered questions about the U.S. Army’s handling of shooter Robert Card, in particular whether any failure to follow protocol perhaps led to the tragedy on Oct. 25.

On Monday, the group spelled out some of the unknowns that they are hoping an independent investigation can shed light on. In a letter sent by attorneys Travis Brennan and Benjamin Gideon on behalf of the families to Republican Sen. Susan Collins, independent Sen. Angus King, and Democratic Reps. Jared Golden and Chellie Pingree they outlined key points at which the Army may have taken action and asked what protocols were followed to better understand if lapses occurred.

One of the outstanding questions is whether Card’s time spent in a psychiatric institution should have flagged any gun safety laws meant to deter people who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm. New York, where in July Card was stationed at an Army reserve camp before being sent to Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital in Westchester, has one of the strongest red flag laws in the nation. Maine’s weaker “yellow flag” law must be instigated by police, as opposed to family or friends, and also requires a mental health evaluation from a medical professional before petitioning a judge to confiscate a person’s firearms.

Another line of questioning focuses on the Army’s decision to strip Card of his weapons, and raises whether the Army has any obligations “to protect the community when he stepped off the military base?”

They also want to know why in September, after Card’s reserve unit became aware that he physically assaulted a fellow service member and that he reported hearing voices, the military did not order another mental health evaluation.

Pushing for information and accountability, Lewiston families and survivors go to Washington

Late last week, one day after meeting with the Lewiston families and survivor, Maine’s delegation sent a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Army calling for a comprehensive review of the facts and events leading up to the October 25 mass shooting.

“We believe it is imperative that you, as the Inspector General of the Army, conduct an investigation separate from the ongoing administrative review conducted pursuant to the Army’s Suicide Prevention Program regulations. This tragedy warrants a much broader, independent inquiry,” they wrote.

A complete text of the questions is below:

1. In mid-July 2023, Robert Card was on a training trip with his Army reserve unit at Camp Smith, near Peekskill, New York. After a violent confrontation with a fellow reservist and other erratic and concerning behaviors, Card’s reserve unit brought him to the Keller Army Community Hospital, which then transferred him to a private psychiatric hospital in Westchester, NY (Four Winds Psychiatric Hospital) where he remained admitted for 14 days.

  • Was Card brought for mental health evaluation and treatment by his reserve unit, and if so, under military regulations would such referral for mental health evaluation be considered a military order? See DOD Instruction 6490.04 (noting that “a command directed mental health evaluation (MHE) has the same status as any other military order”).
  • Who in the Army Reserve chain of command received the warnings about Card’s mental health issues, his threats to other Army reservists, his threats of violence, and who in the Army reserve chain of command made the decision and issued the Order(s) to have Card evaluated for his mental health and ultimately sent to a mental health hospital?
  • Did the Army perform an “Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES)” of Card? Or was any other kind of process, review, or evaluation performed by the Army of Card’s mental health or suitability for service to determine his fitness to serve? (IDES is a joint DoD and VA disability evaluation process. Under this system, VA helps DoD determine if wounded, ill, or injured Service members are fit for continued Military service and provide disability benefits to Service members and Veterans, if appropriate).
  • What specific New York statute or regulation provided the basis for Card’s evaluation at the Army hospital and transfer and admission for fourteen days to the psychiatric hospital? (New York Mental Hygiene Law § 9.57 authorizes emergency room physicians to admit or transfer patients for immediate observation, care and treatment; § 9.39 permits emergency admissions of up to fifteen days to a psychiatric hospital for immediate observation, care, and treatment).
  • Based upon the circumstances and legal basis of Card’s hospitalization, transfer, and admission, was Card’s admission a “commitment” for the purposes of the Gun Control Act of 1968? See 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) prohibiting the possession or purchase of firearms by anyone who has been “committed to a mental institution.”
  • If Card’s admission to the psychiatric hospital was a “commitment,” what responsibility did the Army have to report this commitment to any of the source databases used to track individuals who are “committed to mental institutions” for the purposes of enforcing the provisions of the Gun Control Act and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, 34 U.S.C. § 40901? And if so, did they report this history to the FBI?
  • Overall, what is the rate of compliance within the Army of reporting those committed to mental institutions to these source databases?
  • What policies and procedures does the Army Reserve have to ensure that individuals prohibited from possessing weapons by 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) do not have access to personal firearms and ammunition, and were these policies and procedures followed with respect to Card?
  • Did any commanding officer and/or medical professional have reasonable grounds to believe Card was at risk for suicide or causing harm to others prior to October 25, 2023, and what information was collected about Card’s privately owned firearms, ammunition, and other weapons pursuant to U.S. Army Reserve Commanding General Policy #20-14 Care of U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) Soldiers with Suicidal Ideations?
  • Was a Command Directed Behavioral Health Evaluation performed with respect to Card at any point prior to October 25, 2023, and if so, what DA Form 3822s were generated and what were the recommendations on reduced access to weapons, restriction from access to military weapons, and encouragement to use gun locks, gun safes, and storage of personal weapons with the unit or other trusted sources?
  • When and from what source did Card purchase the firearms used in his attack

2. After Card’s psychiatric hospital admission in July, the Army determined Card was non-deployable and directed that while on military duty he be stripped of any weapons, ammunition, or participate in any live-fire activity.

  • What were the circumstances that resulted in the determination that Card was non-deployable?
  • Who in the Army chain of command made this determination?
  • Given that the Army perceived Card to be a threat to himself and others on the military base, what obligations did the Army have to protect the community when he stepped off the military base?
  • What policies, procedures, and regulations does the Army have that address situations when its members display overt warning signs of mental health issues and/or threaten violence against other members of the military, the community, or self-harm? If so, were such policies, procedures, and regulations followed with respect to Card?
  • The U.S. Army Reserve Command’s Surgeon Office and USARC medical management made multiple attempts to contact Card in the months following the events at Card’s annual training in New York. What authority did the Army Reserve have over Card to compel his attendance at medical appointments, and was this authority exercised at any time following his medical discharge from New York?

3. In September 2023, Card’s reserve unit became aware that Card had physically assaulted a fellow service member, he was “hearing voices,” he remained in possession of his weapons, and he had threatened to commit a mass shooting.

  • Was Card’s reserve unit required to initiate a referral for a mental health evaluation? (DOD Instruction 6490 states that “A commander or supervisor will refer a Service member for an emergency MHE as soon as is practicable whenever . . . [a] Service member, by actions or words, such as actual, attempted, or threatened violence, intends or is likely to cause serious injury to him or herself or others.”)
  • Why was there no command-directed referral for mental health evaluation in September 2023?
  • What is the process in place that the Army employs when performing a referral for a mental health evaluation under DOD Instruction 6490 or any other applicable instruction, manual, policy or procedure?
  • Overall, what is the rate of compliance within the Army of referring service members for emergency mental health evaluations when such service members are known to present a risk of serious injury to themselves or others?

4. Card did not report to battle assembly in September or October of 2023.

  • In light of the events of the preceding months, why was no command-directed referral for mental health evaluation following his failure to report for battle assembly in September and/or October 2023?