Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre fields questions Wednesday afternoon at the police station as he recounts the night of the recent mass shooting. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre was changing the diaper of his 3-month-old grandson when he got the call.

It was his watch commander telling him there appeared to be an active shooter.

“It was kind of surreal, you know, ” St. Pierre said Wednesday, reflecting back on the events of Oct. 25, the night 18 people were fatally shot and 13 more wounded at two locations in Lewiston.

“I told my wife and her daughter that I needed to go. She said, ‘What’s up?’ I said, ‘active shooter’ and I just ran out the door,” St. Pierre said.

In the top job for nearly two years, it was normal for the chief to get several calls at night throughout the week to keep him abreast of breaking events.

“But in this case, it was different,” he said.


His watch commander, Lt. James Theiss, had used a key phrase: “active shooter.”

“It’s never happened in my 31 years as a policeman,” St. Pierre said about hearing those words, “and I hope I never do again.”

He raced to the scene of the reported mass shooting at Just-In-Time Recreation on Mollison Way in the northern end of the city.

When he arrived, he was met with a “sea of police,” including his officers, county deputies and Maine State Police; the scene was “so chaotic, very hectic,” he said.

“There’s a lot of radio traffic. You’re trying to decipher and listen if anybody, if any particular officer, needs you in any particular location, or if they’ve found the shooter or the suspect in this case. We didn’t know,” he said.

Emergency responders and police gather at the emergency entrance at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Oct. 25 after the deadly mass shooting at Just-In Time bowling alley and Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

“When all of our officers responded there, they believed that this was still an active situation and that shooter was still there” at the bowling alley, he said.


“I commend my officers, all of them. Not one of them, from what I’ve reviewed, hesitated the least bit,” he said.

“You hear a lot of departments being criticized for waiting too long to enter” the scene of an active shooter, he said. “That certainly was not the case in this instance. Our officers couldn’t get there fast enough. And they made entry right away. I’m very proud of our police officers. They ran to the gunfire where most people were running away.”

The first patrol officers to respond to the bowling alley had arrived within four minutes of being dispatched, St. Pierre said.

A few officers had been at a firing range at the south end of the city, training for their semiannual firearms proficiency, a requirement of sworn officers. They had heard radio chatter about an active shooter and sprang into action.

“Those officers didn’t even hesitate and just responded to the scene — actually, to both scenes,” St. Pierre said.

With the bowling alley secured, St. Pierre started to make his way to the Lewiston Police Department’s station downtown.


On his way, he stopped at a nearby sports bar to warn customers and management to make themselves safe and leave the area as soon as possible.

He headed to the police station about 2 miles away to assist Theiss in setting up a command post and handling the logistics of assigning law enforcement officers from various agencies to different locations for a variety of duties.

As he did, a radio call reported a second active shooter, this time at Schemengees Bar & Grille at the other end of the city at 551 Lincoln St., about 4 miles away from the bowling alley.

St. Pierre knew that his watch commander, in the event of a critical incident, would be tasked with calling in the Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit and notifying dispatch to issue a “mass text” to all available local police officers in the department to respond immediately, he said.

As officers began to pour into the station, they would need to be assigned where to go and what to do, St. Pierre said.

He knew his patrol supervisor would be responding to both scenes of the active shooter and assume incident command at those locations.


“It was an all-hands-on-deck process,” he said.

Emergency responders fill Lincoln Street on Oct. 25 in Lewiston near Schemengees Bar & Grille. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file


St. Pierre soon realized the station would be too small to accommodate the hundreds of first responders, including officers from Auburn and Lisbon police departments, Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office and even area fire departments in addition to state police officers and federal agents, so he moved operations to Lewiston High School.

“It’s a very fluid situation as we go,” he said. “It’s very stressful because of the very nature of it.”

St. Pierre said he didn’t know at that point whether there was a lone gunman or a second shooter at large after learning of shots fired at the bar just 12 minutes after the bowling alley.

“Is this one person acting alone? Has he fled? Is he still there?” he said. “We respond to these calls as if he’s still there. We want to further protect the lives there and take action against a perpetrator if he’s still actively shooting at people,” St. Pierre said.


Coordinating first responders at a scene that hasn’t been secured is “very difficult,” he said.

“We can’t always assure safety, but obviously that’s our main goal, to keep our police officers safe, to keep our fire personnel safe, all of our first responders,” he said.

There were “countless” ambulance personnel, including paramedics and emergency medical technicians, responding, he said.

His officers entered both shooting scenes and cleared them before allowing medical workers inside to care for the injured, he said.

“We can’t put them in danger and we won’t put them in danger. But all of them were very brave. All of them responded quickly, not just our police officers, but the firemen were very brave, the ambulance personnel, all of them looking to assess ‘What can I do?’ and they responded without hesitation,” St. Pierre said.

The first casualties to arrive at Central Maine Medical Center were actually brought there by police officers, according to the hospital’s chief medical officer.


“We did take some action to try to save some lives and get them there because the ambulances either hadn’t arrived yet or were tending to somebody else,” St. Pierre said.

A man and woman embrace at the reunification center shortly after midnight early Oct. 26 at Auburn Middle School in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

After police found the suspect’s car parked at a boat ramp in Lisbon later that night, many officers congregated at that scene.

And search warrants were secured at other locations, including Robert Card’s home in Bowdoin.

Until he was taken into custody, authorities made no assumptions as to his whereabouts, St. Pierre said.

“We’re following up on other areas that we knew or we learned or believed or were told that he likes to hang out, whether that might be a friend’s house, relative’s house, or whatnot. All of those things take manpower,” St. Pierre said.

“Here we have a guy with proven propensity for violence, who just committed this heinous crime,” he said.


Just knocking on the door of a home where the suspect might be hiding requires more than a couple of officers, St. Pierre said. A tactical team is likely needed in that scenario because of mass casualties left in the suspect’s wake.

“All of these considerations are made in an event like this when we’re looking for somebody that’s proven to be so dangerous,” he said.

“We did not eliminate the possibility that he could strike again and then target somewhere else. It’s a difficult balance. But it takes a lot of manpower. And, I mean, I gotta tell you, I was awestruck,” at the response by law enforcement, including helicopters from the FBI, and state police from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, some equipped with infrared detection technology able to locate humans on the ground.

More than 800 tips and leads flooded 911 centers that needed to be followed up on during the two-day manhunt, he said.

Information included the possibility that Card had returned to Lewiston or visited his ex-girlfriend or gone to Monmouth.

St. Pierre said authorities didn’t know whether Card was alone or might have gotten a ride with an accomplice from where he left his car in Lisbon. He was reported to have owned a Jet Ski. Had he escaped by water?


Law enforcement officials remain at the scene on Oct. 26 at Just-In-Time Recreation in Lewiston after the Oct. 25 mass shooting. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file


Now, more than two weeks after the mass shooting, Lewiston Police Department is working on completing its internal after-action debriefing.

“We’re trying to decipher everything about this whole thing. Who responded? Could we have done anything better? Is there another thing we could have done?” he said.

“I don’t think we made very many mistakes. I think we did a great job throughout the whole investigation. But everything we do in law enforcement we learn from and we hope to always do better,” he said.

Similar debriefings are held after every critical incident, St. Pierre said, done, in part, to maintain accreditation and partly to assess the department’s response.

Everyone in the department who responded in any way will be involved in the debriefing, he said.


“A lot of times, we come together and we say, ‘You know what, we really nailed that. We really did a good job here. We really did a good job there. But, you know, maybe in the future, if we did it just this way, it might be just a little bit better,'” he said.

His department is expected to file its report with Maine State Police by the end of the month, he said, because they still are the lead agency in the case.

“It’s definitely a tragedy,” he said. “Honestly, a lot of this is still a blur. There’s a lot of a lot of things to still consider, a lot of things to do to wrap this up.”

A sign outside the Lewiston Police Station on Park Street in Lewiston on Wednesday shows support for police. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Meanwhile, Gov. Janet Mills has launched a state investigation to be conducted by an independent commission. And U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have called on the inspector general of the U.S. Army to conduct a comprehensive review, including the days and weeks before the shooting.

For his part, St. Pierre is focused largely on his officers and their emotional well-being, since many of them witnessed firsthand the shooting scenes, and those who didn’t are nevertheless deeply affected by the events and will continue to be.

“We’re very guilty in law enforcement of basically thinking that we can handle this,” he said. “We’ve provided (his officers) with days off; we’ve provided them with counseling. Those in particular who responded to both scenes were mandated to go see a clinician,” St. Pierre said.


“We take it very seriously, realizing that every officer deals with situations in a different way or every human being for that matter deals with stress and grief in different ways. There’s nobody that should have to see what our officers and first responders saw. That includes medical staff at the hospitals, paramedics, firemen,” he said.

Twelve out of the more than 30 casualties from the shootings that night were taken to hospitals. Three of those who were fatally shot died at CMMC, which suggests 15 others died at the scenes of the shootings.

While he’s focused on the mental wellness of his staff, St. Pierre was asked whether he himself has started to process the enormity of the events of Oct. 25.

“I think so,” he said. “Has it been difficult for me? Absolutely! I think I’m doing OK. I have good support systems in place and a lot of fantastic staff behind me.”

Asked whether he lost anyone close to him that night, St. Pierre said, “I did. I knew one person very well.”

He was acquainted with some of the others who were fatally shot, he said.


“But that’s where the focus is, on these poor families. I really feel for them,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy that this community shouldn’t have to face and we’re going to be reeling from it for some time to come,” he said. “But, it’s also encouraging for me to see how this community has come together to support one another,” he said, pausing as his voice broke.

“Excuse me, I may get a little broken up … but to support law enforcement, to support public safety or, really, just the whole community and what’s going on for support for the families is unprecedented. And I think it’s necessary.”

Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre addresses the media Oct. 27 during a press conference concerning the mass shooting and manhunt for suspect Robert Card. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file


The well wishes from near and far have been gratifying and uplifting, St. Pierre said.

He’s been overwhelmed by the “tremendous outpouring” of support and generosity in the community and beyond, starting the night of the shootings, when businesses had closed and a shelter-in-place order issued, yet restaurant staffs from other cities and towns worked quietly behind the scenes to make and shuttle food to the station, the command post and 911 dispatch centers, he said.


And, since that time, “every letter of support, every text message, every call that I received, I appreciate it so very much. And I can’t tell you how many I’ve gotten from colleagues across the country,” he said, noting it’s actually been difficult to keep up with the volume of correspondence.

“We’ve been that busy. We’ve gone from searching for a suspect, to locating a suspect, to officer wellness, to the encouragement and the support from the community, which is fantastic,” he said. “But it adds another dynamic. The football game that they had: ‘The Battle of the Bridge.’ What a nice gesture. Fantastic! We had a great showing of first responders at that event and I think it was wonderful for the community to come together.”

Lewiston police Chief David St. Pierre, standing immediately behind Gov. Janet Mills, foreground left, listens to President Joe Biden during his visit to Lewiston on Nov. 3. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

And yet sometimes it can also present a challenge for his staff, he said.

“It’s taxing,” he said, followed by the visit from President Joe Biden. “Touching as it is for the president of the United States to arrive here” and meet with the grieving families and community in general, it “created a whole other dynamic,” he said, requiring a different heightened level of security. “We need to protect and make sure we safeguard his visit in all the places that he’s going — three stops on his route just in Lewiston.”

Shortly after the president’s departure, Lewiston police were engaged in a standoff with a suspect who was arrested and charged with murder.

“In law enforcement, you have a major event, but life goes on and you still have to safeguard your community the next day,” he said.


“During all this, we still make drug busts, we still make arrests, people still get charged with OUI, we still have to do what we have to do day in and day out and, hopefully, heal at the same time,” he said.

“We will always have officers that are going to take it a little harder than others,” he said. Lewiston is a pretty small community, he said, noting that many of his officers likely knew some of the shooting victims.

“And if they didn’t know them directly, they knew a family member or a friend of theirs, or somebody that’s grieving their death,” he said.

“Those people need some time off. We gave them that time off. But, then we have to refill and replace those shifts. So, that causes other officers to have to work even more,” St. Pierre said.

“When you sign up to be a police officer, you know that you’re going to deal with tragic events. You’re going to deal with heinous situations. You’re going to deal with death. And in the course of your career, undoubtedly, you’re going to know somebody who was affected or who was a victim. I’m sure that was in the back of the officers’ minds that responded to both of those scenes” on the night of Oct. 25, St. Pierre said.

“You never know what you’re going to experience every day. You put that gun belt on and you come to work. You’re not sure if it’s going to be a mundane day of stopping a few cars and issuing a couple tickets or what just happened on the 25th of October that will forever change our community,” he said.

“There will always be hurt in this community,” St. Pierre said. And Lewiston will forever be on the map in the national conscience for having experienced an active-shooter event.

“But, I think the community has come together and will continue to come together as a result of it, and perhaps it’ll be a stronger community and closer knit,” he said. “Lewiston is pretty resilient. I’m born and raised here. And this city is important to me.”

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