LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — More than 1,000 people packed a cavernous church Sunday night, and hundreds more spilled outside, to hug, sing, weep and seek comfort in the wake of Maine’s most deadly mass shooting.
The crowd gathered for the vigil at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, where days earlier a gunman fatally shot 18 people.
Some people put their heads in their hands and wept when the names were read aloud. At one point, members of the crowd raised their hands to say “I love you” in American Sign Language in honor of the four members of Maine’s deaf community killed in the shooting.
“We will not be defined by the tragedies that happened,” said the Rev. Todd Little from the First United Pentecostal Church. “Fear, anxiety and trepidation will not dictate our present or our future.”
The vigil came two days after the body of suspected gunman Robert Card was found. The 40-year-old’s body was discovered in a trailer at a recycling center in Lisbon Falls. Card died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound though it was unclear when, authorities said. Card was also suspected of injuring 13 people in the shooting rampage Wednesday night in Lewiston.
Christian leaders, a rabbi and an imam spoke of the pain from the shooting but how the city of about 37,000 can become stronger. Little told the crowd that their community is bigger than the tragedy and will emerge not just “Lewiston Strong” but “Lewiston Stronger.’
Kevin Bohlin, a leader in Maine’s deaf community, addressed the crowd through American Sign Language as an interpreter delivered his message. Several in attendance could be seen signing to one another throughout the vigil.
The victims are now gone, Bohlin said, “but they are directing us to come together and make a difference in this world.”
Another pastor encouraged Mainers to compassion borne of the tragedy, and to avoid unhealthy debate of the details surrounding the crime that are sure to emerge in coming days.
“Let’s stay focused on the things that invite peace into our communities,” the Rev. Allen Austin said. “Let’s not let this moment be defined by divisiveness.”
Earlier Sunday, several church services were shaped by the shooting and subsequent lockdown that lasted days. At the morning mass for the basilica, several women wore black veils to mark what a church official called “the horrible events in our small town.”
At Lisbon Falls Baptist Church, worshipers greeted each other warmly but the atmosphere turned somber when the Rev. Brian Ganong brought up the tragedy. He prayed for those fighting for their lives, those who lost family and friends, first responders and medical workers, and others — including the Card family, who he said had ties to some members of the church.
Authorities recovered many guns while searching for Card and believe he had legally purchased them, including those recovered in his car and near his body, said Jim Ferguson, the special agent in charge of the Boston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He declined to discuss any specifics.
Investigators are still searching for a motive for the massacre, but have increasingly focused on Card’s mental health history. State Department of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck may have been driven by paranoia.
Card’s family told federal investigators that he had recently discussed hearing voices and became more focused on the bowling alley and bar, according to law enforcement officials who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the investigation.
On Friday, authorities lifted a stay-at-home order put in place during the search for Card, hours before they announced they had found his body. By Saturday, the community was reaching for normalcy. Residents went hunting on the opening day of firearm season for deer, and one family handed out buckets of flowers downtown.
But signs of the killings endured. On Sunday at Schemengees Bar & Grille, one of the shooting sites, workers in white hazmat suits could be seen methodically cleaning up a staircase cordoned off by yellow tape. Nearby, colorful balloons and flowers nestled around a poster that read: “Be Strong Lewiston.
Leroy Walker, an Auburn city councilor and father of one of the victims, greeted people at a early Halloween event on Sunday. He smiled broadly when trick-or-treaters hugged him but teared up when he spoke of his son, Joseph, who normally would’ve joined him.
“It’s been a tough few days, trust me,” he said. “The heart doesn’t stop bleeding,”
The deadliest shootings in Maine’s history stunned a state of 1.3 million people that has relatively little violent crime and only 29 killings in all of 2022.
Three of the injured remained in critical condition at Central Maine Medical Center, and a fourth was stable, hospital officials said. Another was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, and the rest were discharged.
The Lewiston shootings were the 36th mass killing in the U.S. this year, according to a database maintained by AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. The database includes every mass killing since 2006 from all weapons in which four or more people, excluding the offender, were killed within a 24-hour time frame.
Associated Press journalists David R. Martin and Matt Rourke in Lewiston, Maine and Michael Casey in Boston contributed.