Dozens of local, national and international journalists gather by the police blockade in front of Schemengees Bar & Grille on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck stood on the podium in Lewiston City Hall on Thursday to tell local and national reporters about a manhunt that had been underway for more than 12 hours.

They asked why he thought suspect Robert Card had killed 18 people and wounded 13 more, the ages of the victims, what kind of weapon was used, where law enforcement agencies were looking for him. The commissioner provided little new information, deflected most questions, and then quickly ended the press conference. Journalists kept asking even as Sauschuck walked away.

“We have not really gotten many answers,” one reporter called after him.

With college kids on lockdown on their campuses and scared families sheltering in place, as people fielded frantic messages about their safety from loved ones and wondered if those they knew were dead, Maine officials shared little information about the worst shooting in state history. Press conferences on Wednesday night and Thursday morning yielded few particulars about what had happened and was still happening. Misinformation, including inaccurate counts of people killed and injured, grew in the gaps in the official record.

“There was a lot of insight during this press conference, but not a lot of information that people were really seeking,” Jonathan Wackrow, a law enforcement analyst for CNN, said on air after Sauschuck gave his update Thursday. “The details are lacking, and that’s probably by design for one of two reasons. One, either they just don’t have the information, or they are following up on investigative leads and they don’t want to reveal what their approach is going to be to address this.”

Whatever the reason, the waiting has added to the anxiety felt by those on lockdown in two counties. Matthew Peeler, a sophomore at Bates College in Lewiston, said he felt lucky to have been in his dorm when he got the order to shelter in place; other students spent the night in the dining hall or buildings away from their beds. He stayed up until 4 a.m. but still woke at 9 a.m. from a restless sleep.


“It was scary at first because of the shock,” Peeler said Thursday afternoon. “It’s still scary because it’s still happening.”

Experts who have followed the news coverage said the information shared so far in Maine seems on par with what they have witnessed in other shootings across the country.

Al Tompkins, senior faculty at the journalism think tank Poynter Institute, said he noticed how reluctant police were to confirm the number of fatalities and injuries after the shooting. Some sources reported as many as 50 hurt, which proved to be wrong.

Police vehicles leave the scene near the Card family farm along Meadow Road in Bowdoin on Thursday evening. Armored vehicles and SWAT teams were staged further up the road where load explosions like flash bombs could be heard earlier in the evening. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“On the one hand, you have to admire the cautiousness of that,” he said. “On the other hand, that’s an essential number. It took a long time for that to come out. … We’re grateful for the smaller number, but to let that lay out there for a long time, they had to know that number was greatly inflated.”

“It is always the case – where there is no information, bad information will find a way,” he added.

But experts noted that this incident is different from most mass shootings because the perpetrator fled the scene and continued to evade police. James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern University, is one of the principals in maintaining the Associated Press/USA TODAY/Northeastern University Mass Killing Database. He said most perpetrators at a public scene continue shooting until they are killed or arrested, and the fact that this suspect is still at large will rightly impact what information is shared with the public.


“There is a concern that the perpetrator is tuned in, and knowing where the police are looking would be places that he’d avoid,” Fox said.

Given that, Fox said he feels that law enforcement agencies in Maine have been forthcoming with information thus far. For example, they shared Card’s name before he was charged with any crimes. The desire to know more about how and why this tragedy happened is understandable, he said, but some questions may never be answered.

“People want to understand this, want to make sense of it,” Fox said. “But sometimes we can’t make sense.”

Jaclyn Schildkraut is the executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government and used to be an associate professor of criminal justice in New York. She said she is frustrated by the hours of “armchair psychologizing” and speculation that she has seen on national TV since the shooting. The focus, she said, should be on connecting people with resources to navigate a traumatic event or telling them actions that could make a difference, such as donating blood.

“I think the challenge is that we’re a very information-thirsty society, and the way that mass shootings are typically covered with this wall-to-wall coverage that we’ve become very accustomed to since Columbine, it’s made people feel like we have a right to that information,” Schildkraut said.

“The inundation, it’s not healthy,” she added.


At Bates, Peeler has tried to stay away from that flood of information. He said he heard about an active shooter in Lewiston as he walked out of an acapella rehearsal. Some members headed for the cafeteria, but he and his roommate had already eaten dinner, so they went straight to their dorm. Five minutes after they walked in the door, he received the shelter-in-place order. They have spent hours since trying to distract themselves. They were allowed into the dining hall to pick up lunch and dinner to go, but the usual crash of sound was replaced with near silence.

“We were playing video games, we were reading, we’re playing board games so we don’t have to fully confront the horrible things that are occurring right now,” Peeler said. “But while we’re doing that, the blinds have not been open since the shelter in place.”

From afar, his mom has shared that anxiety. Diana Florence, who lives in New York City, said she had just seen a post about the shooting in a Facebook group for parents of Bates students when Peeler texted her to tell her he was OK. They talked on the phone multiple times Wednesday and Thursday. In August, her older daughter sheltered in a bagel shop for hours during a fatal shooting at the University of North Carolina, where she is a senior.

Florence, 53, felt lucky that her children were unharmed in the two incidents, but she was rattled. She fell asleep watching the news and woke up to find no updates on TV. The lack of information wasn’t a surprise given her experience as a lawyer, but it doesn’t help ease her fear.

“Being a former prosecutor, I am probably more understanding than the general average person because I can understand that you can’t reveal everything in the press, and obviously, there’s an ongoing dangerous situation,” she said. “I also understand the not knowing and the fact that this person has not been apprehended. As a mom, I’m frustrated, and I want my kid to be safe. And as an attorney, I understand the system.”

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