Published1 day ago
Driving the streets of Lewiston, Maine, on Thursday, the small city resembled a ghost town.
The day after a gunman opened fire at two local establishments, killing 18 people, thousands of residents in the southern part of the state remained under shelter in place orders as police continued their manhunt for the suspect.
Lewiston’s streets, which this time of year would usually be a postcard of New England in autumn, the leaves red and bright orange, were empty, its stores and businesses closed. Tidy clapboard homes painted blue and grey looked abandoned, the windows darkened and doors latched.
Halloween decorations – blow-up pumpkins and plastic skeletons – on balconies and lawns were reminders of normal daily life.
Every so often, a helicopter flew overhead, a sudden break in the quiet.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, ever,” said longtime Lewiston resident Peter Fertesky, who had come to see the hordes of reporters clustered around the local hospital, Central Maine Medical Center, where officials said on Thursday afternoon 14 victims were receiving treatment.
“Even when the virus [Covid] was out, people were outside,” he said.
Wednesday’s rampage marked the worst mass shooting in the US this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which counts attacks where four or more people are killed or injured, excluding the gunman.
The number of victims – lives taken on one quiet Wednesday evening – nearly match the state’s total homicides for all of 2022.
“This is a dark day for Maine,” Governor Janet Mills said at a news conference in the hours after the shooting. “The people of Lewiston are enduring immeasurable pain.”
Residents say the deadly attack struck at the heart of Lewiston’s close-knit community.
The first shooting took place at Just-In-Time-Recreation, home to youth and adult bowling leagues. The gunman then went to Schemengees Bar & Grille, a family-friendly restaurant, which residents say had been hosting a cornhole tournament when the assailant opened fire.
In the hours since, stories of the victims have begun to surface – a grandfather who loved bowling, a Schemengees employee who reportedly tried to stop the gunman.
In a city this size “everyone knows someone” who died, said Frank, a resident of nearby Auburn, who declined to give his last name.
Frank said his phone had been flooded with messages about people suspected killed or injured. He spent most of Wednesday evening tuning into local police scanners, trying to get a grasp on the size of the assault on the sleepy community.
“I’m in a bowling league,” he said, one hosted by Just-In-Time. “We go on Mondays.”
Frank sat with his wife, Tammy, in a booth of a sandwich shop just a few miles from that bowling alley. The restaurant was one of the only establishments still open in the area.
Other residents shuffled in and out, waiting at black and brown lacquered tables for subs and soups. Most looked drawn, nearly all declined to speak.
Waiting in a queue at the cafe, Alex Lachance, a nurse, said she used to work with the suspect.
“He was very quiet and never spoke more than a couple of words to me,” she said.
After she collects her order, she will go home and lock the doors, she said, be with her family and wait to find out if she’s working on Friday.
Schools will remain closed for a second day and a number of events and shows in surrounding communities have been cancelled or postponed.
Meanwhile, hundreds of local and state police continued their sweep of surrounding towns, woods and waterways, a sweep that continued late into Thursday night. Police said they executed a search warrant at a home linked to the suspect, Robert Card, who is considered armed and dangerous and should not be approached.
“We’re rattled, he’s still out there,” Nick Wilson, 42, a co-owner of a childcare centre in southern Maine, told the BBC. “The tragedy that happened, it’s just brutal.”
As of yet, there have been no reported sightings and the wide-scale search has extended north to neighbouring Canada, with border guards now on alert in case the suspect attempts to enter the country.
The US Coast Guard is also searching the Kennebec River for the suspect, Lt Cmdr Ryan Koroknay said on Thursday, and 80 FBI agents have joined the hunt.
Sitting in the sandwich shop, Frank said the search was concerning but he believed he was safe.
“Me, personally, the odds of him showing up anywhere I am are probably small,” he said. “But everybody who went bowling last night probably thought the same thing.”