Maine

Army lieutenant colonel says Lewiston shooter had ‘low threat' profile upon leaving hospital

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A lieutenant colonel with the Army Reserves told an investigatory panel on Monday that a reservist who committed the deadliest mass shooting in Maine history had a low threat profile when he left a psychiatric hospital prior to the killings.

Lt. Col. Ryan Vazquez also testified that there were limitations on forcing the gunman, reservist Robert Card, to adhere to a mental treatment plan while in civilian life. Further, he said there was no mechanism for the Army Reserves to seize Card’s civilian weapons or to store them under normal circumstances.

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Vazquez, a battalion commander who oversees more than 200 reservists, testified in front of a state commission investigating the Lewiston shootings to answer questions about what Army officials knew about Card prior to the Oct. 25 shooting that killed 18 people at a bowling alley and a bar and grill.

Fellow Army reservists have said they witnessed the decline of Card’s mental health to the point that he was hospitalized for two weeks during training last summer. One reservist, Sean Hodgson, told superiors Sept. 15: “I believe he’s going to snap and do a mass shooting.”

Vazquez told the commission on Monday that Card was considered a “low threat” who should be kept away from weapons because of medication he was on after his hospitalization, and there were not indications that he could do something as drastic as commit a mass shooting.

He later learned of Card’s threat in September to “shoot up” the Saco army where his unit was based. Despite that, he said he was limited in what authority he could exert on Card when he was a civilian and not on military duty.

“If they’re not compliant with treatment, I do not have a lot of tools in my toolbox,” he said.

“I think we’re dealing with a person who had a lot of metal challenged going on at the time, and he was deteriorating,” he added. “So for me to predict what he would have done, how he would have done it, I’m way out of my league.”

Vazquez testified in front of an independent commission established by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. The commission has held several public sessions with police and Army officials, victims' family members, survivors and others to get a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding the shootings.

An interim report released by the commission in March found that law enforcement should have seized Card's guns and put him in protective custody weeks before he committed Maine’s deadliest mass shooting. Card died by suicide in the aftermath of the shootings.

Card's command officer also acknowledged to the independent commission in April that he didn’t take action when the reservist skipped counselor sessions, and didn’t attempt to verify that the shooter’s family took away his guns.
Monday, members of the Lewiston commission acknowledged during Vazquez's testimony that Card's Army superiors faced limitations in the months before the shootings.

“We have all come to have an very acute appreciation of the lack of authority the command structure has over the reservists,” said Paula Silsby, a member of the commission and a former United States attorney for the District of Maine.

The shootings are also the subject of a review by the Army Reserves and an investigation by the Army Inspector General. Army officials have indicated the reports could be available early this summer. Vazquez said during Monday's hearing he was unaware of when the Reserves report is coming out.

An Army health official told the panel last week that another challenge is there are limitations in health care coverage for reservists compared with full-time soldiers.

The Lewiston commission is expected to release its full report about the shootings this summer.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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