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Family members testify Maine mass shooter's 'brain was hijacked'

Until now, many of Robert Card's family members have remained out of the public eye.
Maine Shooting
Posted at 12:34 PM, May 16, 2024

Family members of a mass shooter who killed 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, testified Thursday that they tirelessly worked to get support for the shooter, Robert Card II, 40, before the shooting rampage last October, but they said they received little help.

“My brother-in-law was not this man. His brain was hijacked,” James Herling said in front of a state commission investigating the shooting.

The public hearing was the ninth since January in which the commission listened to testimony from people directly affected by the tragedy — including survivors, police officers and members of Card’s Army Reserve unit.

Until now, many members of Card’s family have remained out of the public eye.

“If we appeared silent it wasn’t because we lacked empathy. We were in shock and disbelief, unable to comprehend that Robbie was capable of such horror,” said Nicole Herling, Card’s sister. She said she is “committed to being part of the change that emerges from (the commission’s) findings.”

Body camera footage of police with Maine mass shooter Robert Card.

Maine Shooting

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Lori Jane Gliha
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At times, the Herlings sobbed while they shared information about Card and spoke about the 31 people who had been shot or killed.

“Our family will never forget your names,” said James Herling, explaining that his family keeps the names of the victims on the wall of their home, so his family can see them every day.

“I am tremendously sorry for the pain that you are going through,” said Herling. “To prevent this from occurring again, we must get to the root and remove it completely, so it won’t spread.”

Traumatic brain injury

Herling said while serving in the military, his brother-in-law suffered a traumatic brain injury that was so “severe” it was “one of the worst” researchers had ever seen, even though Card was an Army reservist and was not in combat.

“Robbie had a TBI ... that was caused by our own military, not by being in war,” Herling said.

“The (Department of Defense’s) negligence regarding TBI must be addressed,” said Nicole Herling. “They must be held accountable for change. This is a call to action.”

Nicole placed her brother’s military helmet on display during her emotional testimony. She said he had been exposed to devasting shock waves during many seasons of military training while he was educating cadets at the West Point military academy.

To the Department of Defense, she said, “(The helmet) failed.”

Nicole said she called many phone numbers to seek help for her brother including the national suicide crisis line, 988, but was told that since Card had not directly threatened to harm himself or hurt others, there was little that could be done.

She said it was a "significant challenge” tracking down her brother’s chain of command in the military.

“Reflecting on what I could have done differently consumed me," she testified.

“I wish I had done everything in my power to get him the help he needed. My pride prevented me from seeking help after facing rejection. Instead, I would feel defeated and withdraw until the next crisis emerged,” she said.

“My biggest mistake was not insisting on help,” she said. “He didn’t believe me when I said he was sick, not crazy.”

"I firmly believe that it's on all of us from this point forward,” said Cara Lamb, Card’s ex-wife and the mother of his son, Colby, 19. “I don’t want this to be about pointing fingers and blame and defending ourselves or him or all of this,” she said.

Lamb described Card as a good dad who was present in the lives of many family members.

She and her son approached a school resource officer at Colby’s school in May 2023, more than five months ahead of the shooting, to express concern about Card’s mental decline and access to weapons.

A deputy from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office also responded to assist.

“When we went to the school, we were there to figure out how to get him help, not how to get him into trouble,” she said.

She said the deputy, Chad Carleton, was helpful and tried to think “outside of the box” to find immediate solutions to improve the situation and involve other people involved in Card's life.

“None of us did enough,” said Lamb. “What we could do, I’m not exactly sure, but that’s why we’re here talking about it and working on it.”

She said she hoped the work of the commission would impact other people and families who might be seeking help in the future.

“What’s the answer going to be the next time? What is going to be said to them because what was said to us was: ‘Well, there’s only so much you can do. Our hands are kind of tied. He hasn’t directly threatened you. He hasn’t physically laid his hands at you. He hasn’t pointed a gun at you.’ Well, he wouldn’t have. It doesn’t mean that the concerns my son brought to me were not incredibly valid,” she said.

The Herlings also spoke about their dismay about getting access to therapy services in a timely manner in the aftermath of the incident.

"It has taken our family months to get any counseling assistance,” said James Herling, who relayed that his youngest child had only been connected with counseling assistance for the first time “this past Monday.”

The pair also expressed concerns about members of the media who, they said, crowded the streets near family homes during the manhunt for Card.

“When my wife and I showed up, we couldn’t even get to our family,” he said. “The media say they are there for the safety of others when in reality, it seemed so [chaotic].”

“Your actions are harmful. Your motives are misguided,” said Nicole of the crews covering the shooting. “I implore you: Treat others as you’d want yourself and your family to be treated. This is a call to action.”

Following Thursday's hearing, the Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs released this statement to Scripps News, attributed to Bryce S. Dubee: The Army is committed to understanding how brain health is affected and to implementing evidence-based risk mitigation and treatment. A single identifiable event is not necessary for Soldiers to receive treatment for traumatic brain injury. Soldiers' medical histories – which may include reported exposures to blast overpressure – are documented, and further evaluation and testing can be conducted. The Army began evaluating blast pressure on weapons systems over two decades ago to enhance safety during training and to inform risk-mitigation strategies. Beginning in June 2024, baseline cognitive assessments will be conducted on trainees at Initial Entry Training and repeated at least every five years to identify changes in their cognitive abilities. In addition, the Army is developing and evaluating improved protective equipment to minimize blast exposure.

The Army Reserve is currently conducting a thorough investigation into the death of SFC Card and the unit’s actions preceding the events of October 25. As a follow-on to the pending administrative investigation, the Secretary of the Army directed the Army Inspector General to prepare independent review. More details may become available once the investigation is complete."