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New York Times, I'm Michael Labarro. This is a daily.


Today, the mass shooting that occurred in Maine last week, killing 18 people, was the country's deadliest of the year. It may also have been one of the most avoidable. My colleague, Nicholas Bogleboreaus, on why so many warnings about the suspected gunman from so many people failed to stop it.




Thursday, November second.


nick, in the days since this awful mass shooting in Maine, you have been trying to reconstruct the warning signs that something was very wrong with the suspected shooter. So tell us about what you have been finding.


Yeah. So in the days after this attack, we've received a bunch of documents that show a series of troubling interactions with the suspect, whose name is Robert Card. He's a 40-year-old army reservist. And the documents show that these warnings concerned his deteriorating mental health, rising paranoia, and anger. They came from pretty much every part of his life. But as we now know, none of those warnings prevented this mass shooting.


Well, nick, where should we start in the story of those warnings? You mentioned that they go back many months.


The first time when the local police are really made aware that this guy is a concern is about five months ago in May, when his ex-wife and teenage son go to a school resource officer. The school resource officer calls down a sheriff's deputy to speak with the family. In that interview, the teenage son and the ex-wife say that he has started to hear voices. He's started to be increasingly paranoid and angry. They also note he has collected about 10-15 guns that he kept at a relative's house and brought them back to his. They're going to the police and saying that he has access to a large number of firearms. They were very worried about him, and I think what they also were struggling with is not understanding where to get him help and what intervention might lead him to be more aggressive and more isolated.


What's the response from the local police after the family has this conversation with them?


The deputy has this conversation with the ex-wife and the teenage son and seems to talk to them at length and learn a lot about Card's behavior and his career in the Army Reserves. He was in the Army Reserves for 20-plus years at that point. The deputy and the ex-wife basically decide that the best place to get help is probably through the Army Reserve. It's people who have known him for a long time. It's people he interacts with regularly, and maybe they have a more formal system of getting someone like this help. The deputy goes back and makes a call to the Army Reserve Base and learns from them, and this is in May, that they've been aware of his declining mental health at the army reserve base and that they already know that something is wrong.


At this point, they have two really important data points. They have family members deeply concerned that this man is not well and has guns. They now know that his place of work, the army reserves, is also very concerned about him. What do the police do with all this information?


They decide, I think, largely to leave it in the Army Reserve's hands.


The police come up with an informal solution to this problem, which is work with the army reserves.


I think that's right.


Okay, so what happens next?


The next thing we know that happens is in July. Card travels with his reserve unit to West Point, New York, for an annual training exercise. There's a very concerning incident that takes place. They're all hanging out together at a motel, and he starts accusing them of calling him a pedophile. This is one of his paranoid delusions that comes up repeatedly. He shoves one at one point, and everyone is just freaked out. Eventually, they call for a supervisor who comes down and tries to speak with Card in his motel room. Card tries to slam the door on him. The supervisor decides that Card needs medical attention. He takes him to a hospital, and he later writes about a concerning interaction during that time where Card was just staring at him for four hours or through him without blinking. At the hospital, they ultimately decide that he needs further treatment and that he should be moved to a psychiatric center, which he is.


What do we know about the treatment he receives there?


We know next to nothing except the amount of time he spent there, which was 14 days, and that after two weeks, he left and that his supervisor in the reserve say that they're not sure he ever sought treatment again.


Okay, so this is clearly a very delicate moment in the story. He's very unwell. Everyone's aware of it. He's just come out of a hospital. What happens to him?


The next thing we know is that in the days after he was released from this psychiatric center, he tries to pick up a silencer for a gun that he had bought. Interestingly, on that form, to pick that up, it asks if he has had a mental health treatment or been committed for mental health treatment. He actually answers yes. He's upfront and says he has. And so the gun shop owner says, I can't give this to you. And he's, from what we heard, very nice about that and says, Okay, no problem. I'll figure that out, and never comes back. After that, things just go downhill. In mid-September, he is riding in a car with a longtime friend and fellow reservist and starts talking in very concerning ways. He's saying that he's upset with people calling him a pedophile, but he also starts talking about carrying out a mass shooting. He starts talking about shooting up places, including his army reserve base and other establishments. And at one point, his friend, who's in the car, says something like, You need to stop talking like that or you're going to get in trouble. And Card actually punches him in the face.


So his friend gets out of the car, makes his way home, and then contacts their superiors in the reserve and says he's worried about his friend.


What do the reserves do in response to that?


This initiates basically, I think, the most intense intervention that we've seen at this point. The reserves reach out to the sheriff's office in Saga Hawk County, where Card lived.


The same Sheriff's office, right, nick, that the son.


And ex-wife have been talking to? That's right. This Sheriff's office knew about concerns back in May, and now they're hearing from the Army Reserve in September that things have escalated. The Reserve says, We'd like you guys to go check on this guy, basically perform a welfare check. The sheriff sergeant goes back to Card's address, and there are indications that he might be home. The sheriff sergeant calls for backup. They try to make contact with Card. They go up to his door. They think they might hear him moving around inside, but he won't come to the door. At that point, they decide because they're in a, as they describe it, disadvantageous position, fearing that he's armed and unwell, they decide to leave him alone at that point.


That's a confounding place for police to land because at this point, this sheriff's office knows very well that multiple people on multiple occasions have determined that this man is a threat. Sounds like the police officers outside the house themselves think he's a threat. They just leave, you're saying. Even though all signs point to someone whose mental state has gotten worse and worse and worse, and who's now explicitly making threats of shooting people.


Right. They do leave the home, and the sheriff sergeant goes back and starts to reach back out to Card's family and his reserve base. I think at this point, he's trying to learn a little bit more about what might be going on. The sheriff sergeant reaches out to an army reserve captain who knows Card, and the captain says he thinks that trying to force a contact is a bad idea. He actually recommends to the sheriff's office that they just leave him alone. He says it's maybe just best to let Card have time to himself for a bit. At that point, the sheriff sergeant calls Card's brother, and the brother says that he will try to take Card's guns away. He says that they have a way to secure the weapons, and he's going to work with their dad to try to make sure that Card doesn't have any access to his guns. That's where the sheriff's office leaves it. By mid-September, they've never made contact with Card himself. The sheriff's office never met with him, and they never do. And then in October, he buys more guns legally. And then within days, he goes to a bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, and opens fire.


And he kills 18 people and wounds 13 more.


We'll be right back. Nik, the layers of warnings that you have discovered in your reporting and outlined in the first half of our conversation are breathtaking. Yet, none of that stopped this man from either buying guns or being forced to give up the guns that he had. I'm emphasizing that because even within the very emotional gun control debate that's always raging in this country, lawmakers from both parties have generally agreed that there's a need for ways to take guns from people who pose a threat, mostly because of their mental health. Does Maine have such a law? And how did it operate or fail to operate in this case?


Yeah. Maine is an interesting state politically. Its government is controlled by Democrats. It has a Democratic governor. But on the issue of guns, it's more complicated. There's a large hunting culture here, and in part for that reason, the state has a history of resisting certain gun control laws. But Maine does have a law that went into effect in 2020. That law is called a yellow flag law, and it's basically a compromise. The yellow flag law in Maine is different than red flag laws in other states, which allow families to go straight to a court and ask them to take away someone's guns because they're worried about them. In Maine, the yellow flag law requires that the police get the person evaluated by a medical practitioner, and then they take that evaluation and go to a court and then hope that a judge will sign off on them being able to take their weapons away. It adds that extra step of needing to go to a medical practitioner and have an evaluation done. It also keeps families from being able to directly ask a court to take away someone's guns.


Got it. Just to clarify, Yellow Flag Law is a little bit more cumbersome. Sounds like it's also more time-consuming, involves more steps and more parties, which is why perhaps you described it as a compromise. It's a little bit more of a watered-down version of a red-flag law, which makes it a bit easier to take away someone's guns.


That's right.


Okay, so did anyone try to use Maine's yellow-flag law in the case of this man?


No, there's no indication that anyone tried to use that law. The police could have decided that it was worth taking card to a medical practitioner, trying to get him evaluated and then go to a judge to force him to give up his guns. But no one took that step.


I'm really curious what we know about why the police department didn't try to use the Yellow Flag law because it clearly exists to solve a situation just like this and would not force the police to rely on the informal systems that we've been talking about of the family, the army, reserve. This law is there so that police can go to a judge and say, We've tried this, we've tried that, it didn't work. Now we need to use the most formal and forceful intervention possible. Why didn't they do it?


We really don't know. The sheriff in Saga Hot County has defended the department's actions and said that they tried to get the family involved to take away the guns, but he really hasn't explained why they didn't use the Yellow Flag Law. What we found out is that this department has never used the Yellow Flag Law since it was passed. In the state, it's been used a total of 81 times, but never by this sheriff's office.


Well, that makes me wonder what elected officials in Maine have said about exactly how this played out and what that tells us about whether or not Maine's Yellow Flag Law is working.


In the wake of this, elected officials have themselves wondered why the Yellow Flag Law wasn't used. In fact, Maine's senior senator, Susan Collins, who's a Republican, said at a news conference that she thought that the Yellow Flag Law should have been used in this case.


It certainly seems that on the basis of the facts that we have that the Yellow Flag Law should have been triggered if, in fact, the suspect was hospitalized for two weeks for mental illness.


And Collins is essentially saying there's a good law in the books that applies to situations exactly like this.


He should have been separated from his weapons.


I'msure. And said that she doesn't understand why it wasn't used in this case.


Well, given that.


The Yellow Flag Law didn't seem to work, are any of the officials in Maine talking about the need for the state's gun laws to change at all? I'm thinking back, nick, to something you said earlier in our conversation about the moment that this shooter tried to buy a silencer. Right. You recounted that he had to volunteer that he had been hospitalized. But of course, a determined potential mass shooter might not do that, might not self-report. And of course, he was still able to buy more guns after authorities were made aware of his mental health and after he was hospitalized. I mean, given that, are leaders in Maine asking tough questions about whether a yellow flag law is enough if things need to change?


They are. State lawmakers are talking about trying to do something in the wake of this attack. And the governor has said that she wants to take some action, that she wanted to gather diverse voices from different viewpoints in a room and talk about what could be done. But beyond that, she has really not committed to any gun control legislation in the wake of this attack.


Right. And of course, as we all know, state officials, local officials only have so much power given that our gun laws are so grounded in federal law.


That's right. And you did have some movement from a member of the federal delegation from Maine, Representative Jared Golden, who's a Democrat from Maine but has long been a supporter of gun rights and opposed to bans on assault weapons.


I have opposed efforts to ban deadly weapons of war like the assault rifle we use to carry out this crime. The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure, which is why I now call on the United States Congress to ban assault rifles like the one used by the sick perpetrator of this mass killing in my hometown of Lewis and May.


He came out at a press conference very emotional and said that he was changing his mind and actually would support banning assault weapons. For the.


Good of my community, I will work with any colleague to get this done in the time that I have left in Congress.


He asked main voters for forgiveness and said that he had been part of the problem. It was a really stunning reversal that you don't see in politics too much.


But of course, Golden is a Democrat in the House, which is controlled by Republicans, and Republicans in Congress have expressed virtually zero interest in meaningfully restricting access to guns.


That's right. Susan Collins was actually standing next to Jared Golden when he made this emotional and surprising reversal on assault weapons, and she was asked if she would do the same.


Well, first of all, let me- Let me say that I think it is more important that we ban very high capacity medical statements. I think that would have more input and more effectiveness.


But she declined to go that far.


There in a nutshell are the limits of Congress's willingness to act on guns. Nick, I want to end in a way where we began, which is with the reality that.


So many.


People in the story of this shooter did the quote-unquote, right thing. They spoke up. They tried to do something. They called the police. They did something that when you really think about it, is exceptionally difficult. They told someone in law enforcement that a person they care about is a threat, knowing that there would be repercussions. And yet none of it worked, which really does raise the question of whether it's a Yellow Flag Law or even a Red Flag Law, these lonely laws we have on the books are really up to the task.


Right. You had a huge number of people in this situation doing one of the hardest things, which is basically calling the authorities on a loved one, being willing to get someone in trouble. His ex-wife, his teenage son, his brother, his sister, his father, and many people in the Army Reserve with him, including one of his longtime friends. All these people wanted him to get help and took that first step to doing so. So knowing that the repercussions for him might not be good, but that they hoped it would get him the help that he needed. But even after that difficult step, you still have to rely on the people who are in charge of enforcing these laws or doing what they can to do it.




And in this case, the law is on the books, and the police never tried to use it. So what this tragedy has made clear is that these laws, even if they're on the books and available, are only as good as a police department that's willing to use them. Well, nick.


Thank you very much.


We appreciate it. Thank you.


On Wednesday afternoon, the White House said that President Biden and first Lady Joe Biden, would travel to Maine tomorrow to honor the victims of the mass shooting. In the days since the shooting, Biden has called on Republicans and Congress to join him in seeking a ban on assault weapons. In a statement, the President said, This is the very least we owe every American who will now bear the scars, physical and mental, of this latest attack. We'll be right back. Here's what else you need to know today.




Long negotiations between multiple governments, Egypt allowed hundreds of people, including several Americans, to leave Gaza on Wednesday. It was the first wave of what are expected to be thousands of foreign nationals, aid workers, and injured Palestinians to flee Gaza into Egypt. All of them entered Egypt at the Rafa crossing, so far the only escape route for people trapped in Gaza. Meanwhile, Israel's military said it had broken through Hamas's front lines in northern Gaza, a milestone in its ground operation, which is aimed at destroying Hamas.


Today's episode was produced by Eric Krabke, Olivia Nat, that Summer Tamad, and Rochelle Bonja. It was edited by Liz O'Bailen, fact-checked by Summer Tamad and Susan Lee. Contains original music by Dan Powell, Rowen Namistow, Pat McCusker, and Marion Lasano, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Runberg and Ben Landford of Wonderly. Special thanks to Chelseaa Rose Marcias, Amelia Nieranberg, andGyla Duane.


That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Bobarro. See you tomorrow.