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Lewiston shooting survivors say the system failed them. They want accountability

The Lewiston shooting commission meets on Monday, March 4, 2024.
Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
The Lewiston shooting commission meets on Monday, March 4, 2024.

There were multiple warning signs and plenty of people knew Robert Card was dangerous and should have been stopped. That's the consensus from the emotional testimony of survivors who, on Monday, addressed an independent commission reviewing the mass shootings in Lewiston.

They say they want accountability from a system that failed them and the 18 people who were killed.

Tammy Asselin described the agonizing wait to find out if her 11-year-old daughter, Toni, was dead or alive after a gunman opened fire at the bowling alley where they'd just finished their first game. In the unfolding chaos, Asselin made it outside but she couldn't find Toni. And once police arrived, they couldn't tell her where she was.

"About 45 minutes went by with no updates, no info, " she said. No matter who I asked, no one had any info. And then my father got the call, 'Pepe, I'm not dead!'"

Asselin later learned that Toni had been led to safety by an assistant bowling coach and taken under the wing of another child's family.

Tammy Asselin at a shooting commission meeting in Lewiston on Monday.
Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
Tammy Asselin at a shooting commission meeting in Lewiston on Monday.

She was one of 16 survivors who addressed the commission on Monday, recounting the horror they experienced on the night of Oct. 25 as they bowled at Just in Time Recreation and played cornhole at Schemengees Bar and Grille.

Like many others, Asselin said she's angry that despite warnings from Card's family members and fellow Army reservists months earlier that he was acting erratically, hearing voices and had access to guns, she and others were left unprotected.

"Enough is enough. It truly angers me that we were so close to preventing this and yet we were failed," she said.

Many said their lives have been forever changed by the shootings and they fear others will have to endure what they have over the past four months if systemic changes aren't made.

Ben Dyer wasn't supposed to be at Schemengees playing cornhole that night but filled in as a substitute for another player. Now, he's recovering from being shot five times. He told the commission he has lost his index finger on his right hand and currently has no movement in it. He lost his tricep and bicep on his right arm. He has bullet holes in his legs and shrapnel throughout his body.

"We can talk about lots of things but the biggest thing is the mental health was there. People knew this was going to happen and nobody stopped it," Dyer said.

Dyer goes to a therapist and he goes to physical therapy three times a week, but his girlfriend and his 12-year-old son still have to help him get dressed, including zipping up his fly when he goes out to dinner and uses the restroom.

"It's not an easy life and this never should have happened," he said.

Jason Barnett was also at Schemengees playing cornhole, something he said he'd done with Card a few times before. Barnett is retired from the military, and said in the military you're trained to "see something, say something."

Shooting commission director Anne Jordan (left) speaks with survivor Tori Patterson after Patterson's testimony on Monday.
Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
Shooting commission director Anne Jordan (left) speaks with survivor Tori Patterson after Patterson's testimony on Monday.

He hadn't seen Card in several months and wasn't aware of his concerning behavior. But he said others were and they did what they were supposed to do — they reported it.

"People did say something. It was missed. It was ignored. So why do we see something say something? That's the first question you need to ask yourselves, because who dropped the ball?" Barnett said.

Barnett said he considers himself a survivor of the situation and a victim of the people who dropped the ball. He's also convinced that if someone hadn't turned out the lights in the bar, more people would have been killed.

And until now, that's been a mystery — who had the quick thinking to take that step?

"I killed the power to the entire building," Michael Roderick told commission.

Roderick said he did it after he became separated from his 18-year-old son, Jack. They'd been playing cornhole with friends.

Roderick said he was so proud to see his quiet, introverted son getting out of his comfort zone and enjoying the company of other adults. Then the shooting started.

Roderick wound up in a small utility room but quickly realized Jack wasn't with him. So he stepped out and spotted his terrified son, trying to hide, about 30 feet away. They made eye contact with each other and about the same time, he said he noticed an electrical panel with a giant handle for the breaker box. He pulled it.

"Within seconds my son was in my lap, fortunate that he'd seen me and knew where to go," he said.

Roderick said his son, who still sleeps with his light on, will probably never forget the sound of the shooter reloading. He'll never forget the look on his son's face from across the room. He said his only hope is that the commission can figure out how the warning signs were ignored and teach others how to prevent a similar nightmare from happening again.

The Lewiston shooting commission meets on Monday, March 4, 2024.
Susan Sharon
/
Maine Public
The Lewiston shooting commission meets on Monday, March 4, 2024.

Several survivors from the deaf community described the added frustration they experienced without American Sign Language interpreters at the hospital and with police and other first responders who didn't know how to explain things to them.

Steve Richards said he'd like to see better access to live interpreters at hospitals and training for police and first responders in dealing with deaf people. And training around mental health.

"It sounds like the military, the police officers, many people were warned that this was coming," Richards said. "There was (sic) many red flags. I don't understand why the police didn't take his guns from him so he was not a danger to others."

In December, Asselin said she attended a town hall meeting to discuss the money raised to support the victims of the Lewiston shootings and their families. She said she remembers turning to the bowling coach who brought her daughter to safety and saying, "Am I the only one who's thinking how twisted it is we have a system in place to disperse funds to victims of tragedies, but nothing in place to keep it from happening in the first place?"

She asked the commission members to think about that as they wade through the information they have gathered and prepare to make suggestions.

"Like a previous victim's family said, 'Please find those holes and plug them,'" Asselin added.

The commission is expected to hear from U.S. Army personnel on Thursday.