Survivors say opportunities were missed that could have prevented Maine's worst-ever mass shooting

LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — An emotional mother described freezing when she heard gunfire and then becoming separated from her daughter — not knowing whether she was dead or alive — during the deadliest shooting in Maine history.

Tammy Asselin also had a message for lawmakers dealing with legislation in the aftermath of the Oct. 25 shootings, telling them to “put down your partisan lines and try to approach this like a parent would with simple common sense.”

“Enough is enough. It truly angers me to know that we were so close to preventing this but we failed,” she said Monday, echoing the concerns of other survivors and family members who testified before a commission investigating the tragedy.

Police were aware that the gunman, Army reservist Robert Card, was suffering from deteriorating mental health ahead of the shootings that left 18 people dead in a bowling alley and a bar and restaurant in Lewiston. Card shot and killed himself afterward.

An independent commission, established by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, is reviewing the facts surrounding shootings, including the police response.

Like those who spoke at a previous hearing last month, the victims and family members on Monday questioned why authorities didn’t take away Card’s guns − given the warning signs he displayed before the deadly rampage. One, Ben Dyer, described being shot five times.

Asselin’s 11−year−old daughter Toni joined her briefly in front of the commission members. “I thought it was important for me to provide the face of a child who was there that evening,” she told the commissioners.

Mike Roderick, who was playing cornhole with his 18−year−old son when gunfire erupted, described the horror of being separated from his son, and his decision to turn off the lights at Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant when he found himself hiding in a utility closet. Both of them survived and officials credited the cutting of the lights for saving lives.

“My only hope is that we can prevent others from having to suffer the nightmares and trauma that will plague us for the rest of our lives. Hopefully this commission can figure who and where we dropped the ball and make sure that we learn from these horrible tragic mistakes, and share that information to teach others how to prevent this nightmare from ever happening again,” Roderick said.

The meeting was held at Lewiston City Hall, less than three miles (4.8 kilometers) from the two locations where the shootings took place.

Victims described a fun evening of cornhole or bowling before hearing loud pops. They described freezing, or fleeing. Some of them described crawling on the floor to escape. One described being shot in the arm, saying it felt like an “explosion.”

Tom Hatfield said someone who was bowling in his lane, Tricia Asselin, who was a cousin of Tammy Asselin, was shot to death. He said his girlfriend tried to hide under a table but he grabbed her, and they ran out a back door and escaped injury.

He said he thought he was OK but realized he wasn’t.

“I’m not good. I’m good at putting on a mask, and making people think I’m fine,” he said, adding that a resiliency center for victims was helpful.

Some of the victims belonged to Maine’s deaf community, including Steven Kretlow, who described being shot and diving under a table to pretend he was dead.

Kretlow and other members of the deaf community have said it was difficult for them to receive services after the shootings. He stressed that he needed an interpreter when he was in the hospital, and not having one just magnified the trauma of the experience.

The commission is expected to produce a comprehensive report about the shootings. The purpose of Monday’s meeting was “to hear from victims and others impacted by the shootings,” said Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for the commission.

Members of the commission said the testimony from survivors was critical.

“We can all say we’ve made a step toward making sure this can never happen again,” said Daniel Wathen, the commission chairman.

Relatives of the 40−year−old Card, of Bowdoin, warned police that he was displaying paranoid behavior and they were concerned about his access to guns. He was hospitalized for two weeks in July after he shoved a fellow reservist and locked himself in a motel room during training. Then, in September, a fellow reservist told an Army superior he was concerned Card was going to “snap and do a mass shooting.”

The commission is scheduled to hold another hearing on Thursday in Augusta to hear from members of the U.S. Army Reserves. The hearing with Army officials will be the seventh held by the commission and is the final hearing currently scheduled.

In previous hearings, law enforcement officials have defended the approach they took with Card in the months before the shootings. Members of the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office testified that the state’s yellow flag law makes it difficult to remove guns from a potentially dangerous person.

Democrats in Maine are looking to make changes to the state’s gun laws in the wake of the shootings. Mills wants to change state law to allow law enforcement to seek a protective custody warrant to take a dangerous person into custody to remove weapons.

Other Democrats in Maine have proposed a 72−hour waiting period for most gun purchases. The proposals will likely give rise to a robust debate in Maine, where gun ownership is higher than most of the Northeast.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.

Patrick Whittle And David Sharp, The Associated Press

Photo: 4.8 kilometers