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State police say tip about Lewiston gunman at shooting range before mass shooting was false

FILE - Law enforcement personnel are staged in a school parking lot during a manhunt for Robert Card in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 27, 2023. Months after a deadly mass shooting in Maine, backers and detractors held an hourslong debate over a so-called red flag bill. The measure discussed on Friday, April 5, 2024, would let family members petition a judge to remove guns from someone experiencing a psychiatric crisis. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
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AP
FILE - Law enforcement personnel are staged in a school parking lot during a manhunt for Robert Card in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Oct. 27, 2023.

The man who told police he had been at a gun range with Robert Card hours before the Lewiston mass shooting was lying, a police spokesperson confirmed Monday afternoon.

One of the 3,000 pages of police documents released Friday included what appeared to be a striking new detail about a case that has for months drawn close public scrutiny: Card had frightened a friend with his strange behavior at a shooting range just hours before he opened fire at Just-in-Time Recreation on Oct. 25, according to an undated FBI bulletin.

But police say that never actually happened.

The gun range tip, which the Press Herald and other outlets highlighted in their coverage of Friday’s document release, was a fabrication by a man who later admitted he had lied to police, department of public safety spokesperson Shannon Moss said Monday.

The documents released Friday include multiple references to one or more people making false statements to police during the 48-hour hunt for Card, but their identities and many of the specifics of what they told officials have been redacted, making it impossible to know whether the files are referencing the same individual or multiple false tipsters.

According to a report written by Detective Ethel Ross, police spent several hours on Oct. 26 and 27 interviewing a man who claimed he had been with Card immediately before the shooting, and had fled once the violence began. When the man suggested he knew where Card might be hiding, police sent a tactical team to search the area.

It wasn’t until 4 p.m. on Oct. 27, Ross said he learned that the source “was untruthful and made up the story about accompanying Card just prior to the incident.”

Moss said Monday that the man who lied to police was the source of the gun range story. She refused to answer questions about the man’s identity but confirmed that he was never charged with a crime for his role in misdirecting police.

Sean Hodgson, who was among Card’s closest friends, said Monday that the tip sounded strange.

“It doesn’t make any sense that he would have been with someone else at target practice because he pushed everyone away including me,” he said. “On his lawn there was a tree that he would regularly shoot at and the only place he would have gone long range shooting was his father’s property.”

The man whose false tip was included in the FBI bulletin was the same unreliable source state police officials discussed before the commission investigating the shooting in February, Moss said. At that Feb. 15 public hearing, Sgt. Chris Farley said police received a tip that the man was claiming on social media that he had assisted Robert Card. After initially lying to the officers who interviewed him, the man later admitted he had nothing to do with the shooting and had not been around Card.

“We had to follow up on it because we wanted to make sure there was only one actor,” Farley told the commission. “We were pretty confident he was just someone who wanted to insert himself into the investigation.”

Police have said that battling misinformation was a challenge during the chaos of the manhunt. In addition to the handful of people who lied to officials, hundreds more reported honest tips that came to nothing.

Maine Public Deputy News Director Susan Sharon contributed to this report. 

This story is part of an ongoing collaboration with FRONTLINE (PBS) and Maine Public that includes an upcoming documentary. It is supported through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Corrected: June 10, 2024 at 8:17 PM EDT