Sonar, helicopters, divers and dams are among the resources expected to be deployed as law enforcement officers continue their hunt for for Robert Card, the 40-year-old suspected of carrying out Wednesday night’s massacre in Lewiston, Maine, that has left 18 people dead and several still hospitalized.
A local shelter-in-place order remained in effect Friday, shuttering schools and businesses as dozens of local, county, state and federal law enforcement officials worked around the clock.
How long it might take is anyone’s guess. Maine Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck announced in a press conference that officials would hold regular 10 a.m. media briefings to “go over what happened overnight” and share details on that day’s search plan.
“There’s going to be times when I won’t be able to give you all the information that you need or that you want,” Sauschuck told reporters. “There are safety concerns that I have for our first responders and that we all have for our community members.”
Law enforcement is working to assess more than 500 leads received so far, he said, with help from the FBI.
Police activity would be concentrated Friday in a handful of areas, particularly the bend along the Androscoggin River where Card may have kept a boat. State police have said that Card’s white SUV was found abandoned by a boat launch in Lisbon Falls; he also has two watercraft registered in his name, one being a 1989 Bayliner.
It remains unclear whether Card is dead or alive, on land or somewhere along the state’s thousands of miles of tidal coastline. Canadian border authorities have also been put on alert for Card.
“The very first thing that you’re going to see out there,” Sauschuck said, gesturing to a map of the river, “is you’re going to see some air resources that will fly over this particular area, and they’re looking to see what can we clear from the air. Do I have to put divers in that particular area, or can I tell from the top, based on the current and how muddy the water is, and all these other things, can I see to the very bottom here?”
He continued, “Then there’s going to be some screening and divers that are actually in the water.” That search is expected to start by the Lisbon Falls boat launch and likely move south across the river to include a ground search on the opposite bank.
While some outlets reported Card leaving a note, Sauschuck declined to address its contents. CNN reported that the note indicated Card did not expect to be found alive.
The river search teams “can be dragging the diver behind them, literally, while that diver is checking for evidence, checking for potential bodies,” Sauschuck said.
Some will use sonar in the form of a remote-operated aquatic vehicle that looks like “a pod under the water,” he said, to help differentiate a log, for example, from a potential piece of evidence.
“I would also say that while this is going to look like a major focus today with a lot of people, we have a lot of other irons in the fire,” he added.
A huge flurry of police activity outside a home owned by a relative of Card’s in Bowdoin, Maine, prompted speculation Thursday evening that law enforcement might have been closing in on their suspect. Video of the scene showed officers using a loudspeaker to order anyone inside to come out with their hands in the air.
Sauschuck appeared to address the speculation Friday morning, saying that “announcements over a PA system” do not mean authorities have pinned down the suspect in “an armed standoff.”
“It’s just a lot of resources that it takes to work these scenes,” he said, noting that officials treat locations of interest like the Bowdoin home as if the suspect could be inside and armed.
Sauschuck said there were “a bunch of other” scenes that authorities planned to search, as well.
“We’re going to be all over the place,” he said.
Some searches might involve armored vehicles, while others are made up of officers walking shoulder-to-shoulder. (“Some of those are going to be tactical ground searches versus the standard line search or grid search,” Sauschuck said.)
Sauschuck noted that the Brookfield Power Company has been helping by working with authorities to manipulate the river using two dams that it operates in the area.
“The river currently runs at like 8,500 cubic square feet per second, and when they tighten the dam, they actually lower that down to like 5,500 cubic feet,” he said. A slower current and a lower water level make it easier to search.
“The river is a big piece of this. The car was located there, evidence was located in the vehicle ... that’s stuff that we want to make sure that we’re checking,” Sauschuck said.
Meanwhile, officers are continuing to sweep the two main crime scenes: The restaurant Schemengees and the bowling alley Just In Time, where the gunfire erupted.
“Not only do you have the victims in question, but every one of those rounds that got fired need to be investigated,” Sauschuck said. “Every one of those cartridges that lay on the ground needs to be collected, every vehicle in those parking lots. Everything that we do around this, we need to be careful. We need to be professional.”
Another press conference is expected later on Friday.