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Emotional witness implores politicians to drop partisanship to address shootings

Mar 4, 2024, 3:08 AM

FILE - Recent snowfall coats crosses at one of several memorials for the victims of last month's ma...

FILE - Recent snowfall coats crosses at one of several memorials for the victims of last month's mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. An independent commission investigating the worst mass shooting in Maine's history is about to hear from more family members of the victims of the tragedy. More victims are set to speak Monday, March 4, 2024, at the hearing in Lewiston. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

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

Tammy Asselin also had a message for lawmakers dealing with legislation in the aftermath, 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 are so close to preventing this but we failed,” she said.

Police were aware that the gunman, Army reservist Robert Card, was suffering from deteriorating mental health ahead of the the Oct. 25 shootings that killed 18 people in a bowling alley and a bar and restaurant in Lewiston. The commission, established by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, is reviewing the facts surrounding shootings, including the police response.

Victims who spoke at a previous hearing held by the panel last month said authorities had a chance to remove guns from Card before the rampage and did not. Kathleen Walker, whose husband Jason was killed while rushing at Card to try to stop him, said: “The system failed, and we can’t allow this to happen again.”

Asselin was the first of additional victims to speak Monday at the hearing in Lewiston. Her 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.

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

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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Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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Emotional witness implores politicians to drop partisanship to address shootings