Content warning: This article mentions suicide.
On Oct. 25, 2023, the city of Lewiston, Maine was devastated by the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history, thus adding it to the list of the 656 communities in the United States that were affected by a mass shooting in 2023. The shooting, committed by 40-year-old Robert Card, killed 18 people.
Deb Anthoine, executive director of philanthropy at the St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, said, “[The shooting] was shocking and almost unbelievable.”
A shelter-in-place mandate was immediately ordered for Lewiston residents and surrounding towns as the two-day search for Card ensued.
Bates College, located in Lewiston, also went into full lockdown.
Annie Robinson, a sophomore at Bates, was studying in the library at the time of the shooting.
“As soon as the first person said anything about [the shooting], it just wouldn’t stop escalating,” Robinson said. “I ended up spending 12 hours in the library [and] leaving at seven in the morning.”
Mainers were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief on Oct. 27 when Card was found dead by investigators due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. However, this did little to ease the pain caused by the shooting.
“Once the shock wore off, it was just a deep, deep sadness and deep compassion for the people that were affected,” Anthoine said. “We’ve never seen a mass shooting like this.”
She expanded on the widespread effects of a tragedy like this.
“There was going to be a lot of people affected in a variety of ways,” she said.
The mass shooting affected all parts of the community, including Bates College.
“Short-term on campus, it was very eerie and depressing and confusing,” Robinson said. “There was nobody on the streets.”
Despite the destruction and devastation, community members from Lewiston and across the state jumped into action to support the city, and the families of those killed and wounded in the shooting. Among those supporting the cause was Mark Rodrigue, owner of Rogue Life Maine, an apparel business based in Lewiston.
“It really hit home on Thursday morning,” Rodrigue said. “There’s going to be families that are going to need help. … So we just kind of sprung into action thinking we're just a small piece of this, but whatever we can do to help will be great.”
Rodrigue and his team quickly developed a line of “Lewiston Strong” apparel and stickers to raise money for the victims’ families. “I was hoping, well, maybe we could do $5,000 as the donation. … That would be a great number for us,” Rodrigue said.
The fundraiser far surpassed Rodrigue’s expectations. The Saturday morning following the shooting, the Lewiston Strong shirts sold out.
“The online orders on Sunday were just crazy, … and then it was Monday morning. [We had] a stack of orders 15 inches high,” he said.
The success of the fundraiser wouldn’t have been possible without enormous community support.
“[The fundraiser] took a lot of other volunteers. We had people that literally came in to buy a shirt and said, ‘Do you need help?’ and we said, ‘Yeah.’ They went back in the showroom or in the warehouse and started folding shirts for us,” Rodrigue said.
Rogue Life Maine went on to sell shirts to people all over the world, raising over $200,000 for the Lewiston-Auburn Area Response Fund.
Beyond fundraising, the community of Lewiston came together after the shooting with diverse displays of volunteerism and care. As a longtime resident of Lewiston and an employee at St. Mary’s, Anthoine observed both the community support and healthcare response to the shooting.
“The response from neighbors to each other was what was expected. … People really pulled together, and more than just financially,” she said. “People were setting up memorials all over the place, … and people were giving donations.”
Similarly, the healthcare system in Lewiston took immediate action.
“What's incredible is the number of staff, even retired physicians in the area, who flocked to the hospital to be ready to help nurses and other staff,” Anthoine said. “We proved that we were able to respond to an emergency, and that we were able to respond to the needs of our employees as well.”
The quick action of businesses, healthcare providers and community members alike proved Lewiston’s resilience.
“I know Lewiston, they are such a strong community,” Robinson said.
She expanded on the experience of seeing the community response in Lewiston.
“It didn't surprise me, the amount of support coming together, but it still was really interesting to see it all happen,” Robinson said. “The response was really beautiful.”
Even now, three months after the shooting, the victims are far from being forgotten. White bows tied around trees in Lewiston have become a symbol for and tribute to the victims of the shooting.
“It was just overwhelming masses of support, and that's something we’re now still seeing,” Robinson said. “Seeing the ‘Lewiston Strong’ and then seeing the white bows are just [a] daily reminder this happened.”
The shooting also highlighted the need for accessible mental health services for Mainers.
“Before this mass shooting, there was a big gap in mental health services,” Anthoine said. “We saw a much bigger increase in … people affected by trauma and violence [who] needed services. … We are aggressively pursuing what we can do on an emergency basis and also how we can provide a continuum of care beyond our inpatient mental health integration efforts.”
St. Mary’s had already been working to increase mental health support before the shooting, but Anthoine hopes that striving to improve these services will prevent another similar event in the future.
“Providing more access to mental health services could prevent somebody from harming themselves or someone else. We can address those [concerns] and make [help] available [and] accessible. That's our mission,” she said. “Going forward, certainly we never hope that this happens in any city. Certainly [we] hope it never happens again in Lewiston-Auburn. But we can be prepared.”
Beyond expanding mental health services, the shooting also opened opportunities for collaboration between hospitals, such as between St. Mary’s and Central Maine Medical Center.
“There's more opportunities for collaboration between organizations that serve the population, [including] health care organizations. In Lewiston, the two hospitals, who often seem to be competitive, actually complement each other in a lot of ways,” Anthoine said. “[The] services that we offer are not all the same.”
Robinson noted how the Bates College Harward Center, where she is a volunteer, will continue to play a role in supporting the city of Lewiston.
“A large purpose of the Harward Center is to support the needs of the Lewiston community,” she said. “If there are holes, we want to be there, to be able to fill [them].”
Likewise, Rodrigue and his team at Rogue Life Maine will continue to fundraise for the victims’ families.
“[Other people] someplace else in the country [who] bought a shirt, they're going to forget about it a little bit. They might remember it like any other tragedy that happens, but I think that the community [of] Lewiston-Auburn has come together,” he said.
“[I’m] really hoping that everyone still stays as keen. … We're going to try and do some other fundraisers to keep it in front of them,” Rodrigue said. “No matter what the number is, these people are going to need help. And it’s going to be an ongoing thing.”
Anthoine echoed the sentiment of long lasting effects of the tragedy.
“Certainly it's going to be a story for a long time. Again, the breadth of effect, the breadth of impact is really, really far,” Anthoine said.
This breadth extends to Bates College and the Harward Center.
“I think that [Harward] Center will do a lot, but also I just think everyone, in their own way, [will help] … They're here. They're part of this community. They've seen the impacts of it,” Robinson said.
The mass shooting took 18 lives, wounded 13 others and has made an immeasurable impact on countless community members. Even in the wake of such utter devastation, the city of Lewiston and the entire state of Maine came together to assist with the damage and trauma caused by the shooting.
Three months later, the support is still ongoing. The city proved itself: Lewiston is strong.
“We're not just moving on and forgetting,” Robinson said. “We have a place in our hearts.”