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Lewiston gunman's brain to be studied for potential illness, injury

A member of security (right) stands at an emergency department entrance at Central Maine Medical Center during an active shooter situation, in Lewiston, Maine, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.
Steven Senne
/
AP file
A member of security (right) stands at an emergency department entrance at Central Maine Medical Center during an active shooter situation, in Lewiston, Maine, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023.

A medical laboratory is examining a sample of brain tissue from the gunman in the Lewiston mass shooting for signs of potential trauma.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Maine sent the sample to a Boston University center that specializes in brain injuries caused by repeated blows to the head. Results of the analysis may take six to eight months to come back, according to the medical examiner's office.

"The reason further testing is being conducted on Mr. Card’s brain is that in an event such as this, people are left with more questions than answers," said spokesperson Lindsey Chasteen. "It is our belief that if we can conduct testing (in-house or outsourced) that may shed light on some of those answers, we have a responsibility to do that."

Questions continue to swirl around the mental state of gunman Robert R. Card II in the months and weeks before he killed 18 people and injured 13 others at two businesses in Lewiston. It was the worst mass shooting in Maine history.

Card's U.S. Army Reserve unit, which is based in Saco, trains other soldiers and West Point cadets in firearms and explosives. In a story published Monday, The New York Times quoted several fellow reservists — speaking anonymously — as saying that Card frequently instructed cadets on the use of hand grenades, working out of a "grenade pit" that offers protection from shrapnel but not necessarily from the concussive blast.

One reservist also told the newspaper that another unit member "had to be pulled off the grenade training range in 2022 because of mental health concerns" and that the person is now in a psychiatric hospital.

An Army spokesman referred a question about the brain tissue analysis to Maine's medical examiner.

While traumatic brain injuries are well documented in football players, there is a growing body of research into the potential risks to military personnel repeatedly exposed to shockwaves from "low level blasts." Traumatic brain injuries can lead to what's known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a fatal brain disorder that can cause dementia and severe changes in behavior.

The Defense Department's Military Health System has a Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence, and that center produced fact sheets and training videos for both personnel and medical personnel on the issue. One videoexplains that exposure to low-level blasts can cause trouble concentrating, hearing loss, irritability and memory loss.

"Make sure to ask service members about their job and exposures, keeping in mind that certain military occupations are at a higher risk of exposure due the weapons systems they train with," the video's narrator said. "Then document all of the necessary information related to their low-level blast exposure into their electronic medical record. This documentation should include whether or not the service member belongs to a high-risk occupation and the duration of time spent training with those specific weapons systems."

Family members and fellow reservists of the Lewiston gunman had raised concerns about his increasing paranoia and aggressive behavior in the months before the shooting. He had also reportedly began hearing voices calling him a pedophile not long after he began wearing hearing aids.

Card was hospitalized for two weeks in New York last summer after his fellow reservists reported he was behaving erratically and aggressively. Following Card's release, the Army prohibited him from accessing military firearms. But it does not appear that the Army sought to utilize weapons restrictions laws — known as red flag and yellow flag laws — in place in New York and Maine to prohibit him from accessing personal guns.

Deputies from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office attempted to contact Card in September after reservists expressed concerns that he planned to shoot up the Saco facility or commit a mass shooting. But deputies did not speak with Card and also did not seek to use Maine's yellow flag law allowing them to temporarily confiscate any weapons. Instead, they backed off after Card family members said they would try to remove his guns and Reserve leaders said they would attempt to get him mental treatment.

The Army is conducting an internal investigation into Card's death and the events leading up to Lewiston, but the spokesman said no additional information was available on Monday.

Meanwhile, members of Maine's congressional delegation continue to press for the Army's inspector general to conduct a separate investigation into the military's handling of the gunman's mental health. They reiterated that request on Friday after meeting with victims and family members of those shot in Lewiston.

"This tragedy warrants a much broader, independent inquiry,” wrote Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden to the inspector general. "We must work to fully understand what happened—and what could have been done differently that might have prevented the Lewiston shooting—on the local, state, and federal levels. We must also give the American people confidence that the investigation is comprehensive and unbiased.”

Army spokesman Bryce Dubee said Monday that, "The Army is in close contact with the Maine delegation and is committed to addressing their questions."