Family members testify that 'mass perpetrator's brain was kidnapped from Maine'

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

“My brother-in-law was not that man. His brain was hijacked,” James Herling told a state commission investigating the shooting.

The public hearing was the ninth since January in which the commission heard 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 hidden from the public.

“If we remained silent, it was not because we lacked empathy. “We were in shock and disbelief and could not understand that Robbie was capable of such horror,” said Nicole Herling, Card’s sister. She said she was “committed to being part of the change that comes from the commission’s findings.”

Police body camera footage of Maine mass shooter Robert Card.

Police body camera footage of Maine mass shooter Robert Card.

US News

7:14 p.m., February 15, 2024

Police video shows Maine mass shooter's mental health struggles

The Herlings sobbed at times as they shared information about Card and talked about the 31 people who had been shot or killed.

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

“I’m so sorry for the pain you’re going through,” Herling said. “To prevent something like this from happening again, we need to get to the root and remove it completely so it doesn’t spread.”

traumatic brain injury

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

“Robbie had a traumatic brain injury … caused by our own military, not the war,” Herling said.

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

During her emotional testimony, Nicole showed off her brother's military helmet. She said he was exposed to devastating shockwaves during his military training while training cadets at West Point Military Academy.

She told the Ministry of Defense: “(The helmet) failed.”

Nicole said she called many numbers to seek help for her brother, including the national suicide hotline 988. However, she was told that Card had not directly threatened to harm herself or others and that little had been made could be done.

She said it was a “huge challenge” to track down her brother's chain of command in the military.

“Thinking about what I could have done differently occupied my mind,” she testified.

“I wish I had done everything in my power to get him the help he needed. My pride stopped me from seeking help after I was rejected. Instead, I felt defeated and withdrew until the next crisis occurred,” she said.

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

“I truly believe it’s up to all of us from now on,” said Cara Lamb, Card’s ex-wife and mother of his 19-year-old son Colby. “I don't want it to be about blame and blame. We're defending ourselves or him or any of it,” she said.

Lamb described Card as a good father 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 before the shooting, to express concerns about Card's mental decline and access to guns.

A Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Office deputy also responded to assist.

“When we went to school, we wanted to figure out how to help him, not how to get him in trouble,” she said.

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

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

She said she hopes the commission's work will have an impact on other people and families who may seek help in the future.

“What will the answer be next time?” What they're going to be told, because what we were told was, “Well, there's only so much you can do.” Our hands are tied, so to speak. He didn't directly threaten you. He didn't physically lay his hands on you. He didn't point a gun at you.' Well, he wouldn't have done that. “That doesn’t mean the concerns my son brought to me weren’t incredibly valid,” she said.

The Herlings also spoke about their dismay at being able to access therapy services in a timely manner following the incident.

“It took months for our family to receive counseling,” said James Herling, who reported that his youngest child was first connected to counseling just “last Monday.”

The couple also expressed concern about members of the media swarming 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 says they are there for the safety of others, when in reality it seemed that way [chaotic].”

“Your actions are harmful. “Their motives are wrong,” Nicole said of the crews monitoring the shooting. “I implore you: treat others the way you and your family would like to be treated. This is a call to action.”

After Thursday's hearing, the Office of the Army Public Affairs Director released this statement to Scripps News, attributed to Bryce S. Dubee: The Army is committed to understanding how brain health is affected and implementing evidence-based risk reduction and treatment. No single identifiable event is required to treat a traumatic brain injury. Soldiers' medical history – which may include reported blast exposures – is documented and further evaluations and testing can be performed. The Army began assessing blast pressure on weapon systems more than two decades ago to increase safety during training and develop risk reduction strategies. From June 2024, basic cognitive assessments will be carried out on trainees in initial training and repeated at least every five years to determine changes in their cognitive abilities. Additionally, the Army is developing and evaluating improved protective equipment to minimize blast exposure.

The Army Reserve is currently conducting a thorough investigation into SFC Card's death and the unit's actions prior to the events of October 25th. As a result of the pending administrative investigation, the Secretary of the Army directed the Inspector General of the Army to prepare for an independent review. Once the investigation is complete, further details may be released.

Anna Harden

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