LEWISTON, Maine (AP) — Sunshine and a sense of relief swept through central Maine on Saturday with word that a man who was on the loose for two days after authorities said he killed 18 people had been found dead.
Residents of Lewiston and surrounding towns had been told to stay home since Wednesday night, when authorities say Robert Card opened fire at a bowling alley and then a bar in shootings that also wounded 13 others. His body was found Friday at a recycling center in nearby Lisbon.
Released from lockdown, many residents headed outside to enjoy a warm autumn day.
“We can now begin to pick up the pieces, begin the grieving process,” said Jim Howaniec, a Lewiston native who served as mayor in the early 1990s. “We were sort of in limbo there for 48 hours, which really isn’t that long of a time, but of course it seemed like 48 years while it was going on.”
Melissa Brown said sheltering in place reminded her of living in Washington, D.C., when snipers killed 10 people over a three-week span in October 2002.
“This situation brought that back up in our minds, and brought back all those traumatic feelings. And then we had traumatic feelings now for this new place that we call home,” Brown said.
Getting out for a walk and a run Saturday morning felt good, she said.
“We just are really hoping to get back to being able to live without fear, but we still feel really awful for what happened,” she said. “Our hearts are heavy for everyone involved.”
One family of four from southern Maine spent Saturday afternoon handing out flowers to strangers in downtown Lewiston. Some people they approached with the bright yellow and purple blooms politely declined. Others offered hugs.
““Even if it’s just that one person who has a better day because of it, it’s all worth it,” said Gabe Hirst, 21, of Gray.
Christal Pele, a local teacher who accepted a flower, said she isn’t sure how she will address the shootings with her students when classes resume. The tragedy has prompted many people to be more open and friendly with each other, she said, but a somber feeling lingers in the air.
“When you’re out, you can just feel it,” she said.
Echoing that undercurrent of sadness, someone scrawled two hearts and a message on a napkin and left it on a café table: “We Love You Lewiston. It’s OK to not be OK.”
While residents were relieved to be out and about, there was no snapping back to normal, particularly for those who lost loved ones or witnessed the shootings. An armory that was supposed to host a community Halloween celebration instead was turned into a family assistance center on Saturday.
Tammy Asselin was in the bowling alley Wednesday night with her 10-year-old daughter, Toni, and was injured when she fell in the scramble as the shooting began. On Saturday morning, she said she was relieved to hear that Card was dead but saddened at the lost opportunity to learn more.
“Now we are on the journey to heal, and I am looking forward to working on this,” she said. “It will be difficult but I’m optimistic we will be stronger in the long run.”
In an earlier interview, Asselin said her daughter’s youth bowling league was supposed to have a Halloween party Saturday. Now, teammates and families are focused on supporting each other, she said.
“We want our kids to continue to be able to live their lives as normal as possible and to move forward,” she said. “We are all in the same place. We’re all making sure we get help for our children and help for ourselves.”
As evening fell, about 150 people gathered with candles in a grassy field in Lisbon Falls, not far from where Card’s body was found. Joey Rossignol, who bought a home in Lisbon in March, said he had been too shocked to process the shooting in previous days but that it began to hit him at the vigil.
Rossignol, 45, said he lived in Boston during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and that he never expected to have to go into a similar lockdown in his home state of Maine.
“This is kind of like that second wave,” Rossignol said. “Shock, I guess, is where I’m at personally.”
Earlier Saturday, near a makeshift memorial to the victims near the Lewiston bar, William Brackett Sr. said the anger that had consumed him since Wednesday was starting to lessen. His son, also named William, was among those killed.
“I’m calming down a little bit today because I know the guy is gone and no longer a threat to anybody,” he said. “In the next couple days, I’ll be partially back to myself. Not wholly, you never get whole. Never.”
Ramer reporter from Concord, New Hampshire. Associated Press journalists Michelle R. Smith, David R. Martin and Robert Bumsted also contributed to this report from Lewiston.