Lewiston police officers acknowledge the crowd on Wednesday as hundreds of first responders are recognized before the start of the Battle of the Bridge football game between Edward Little and Lewiston at Lewiston High School. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Lewiston, law enforcement officers are feeling the emotional toll of working in an industry that requires responding to traumatic events.

Counselors say there are now more officers seeking mental health services in Maine with the shooting on everyone’s minds.

In order to address those needs, mental health and law enforcement groups came together on Friday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn to host a voluntary debriefing for police to unpack trauma from the shooting, and offer resources and peer support.

It’s part of a larger movement to put more emphasis on treating mental health needs in the law enforcement community, which has historically battled a stigma around mental health impacts and asking for help.

“You didn’t wake up in the morning, put your uniform on, and expect at the end of your shift to know that this was going to happen or think about what may affect you coming down the pipe because you have endured such an incredible event,” said Dr. Laurie Cyr-Martel, who works for the Tri-County Critical Incident Stress Management Team providing services to agencies like the Lewiston Police Department. “But if we don’t recognize how to keep ourselves healthy if you can’t care for yourself, it’s going to be hard to care for others.”

Law enforcement officers faced an unprecedented challenge last Wednesday, Oct. 25, when shooter Robert Card, 40, killed 18 people and wounded 13 others at separate mass shootings at Just-In-Time Recreation and Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston. The killings amounted to the largest mass shooting in Maine’s history and the deadliest mass shooting of 2023 in America.


It took law enforcement, led by Maine State Police, 48 hours in a sprawling manhunt across the state to find Card’s body at the Maine Recycling Corp. in Lisbon, where officials say he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Dr. Mark Holbrook, a counselor for law enforcement officers in Maine, described the scene as one that officers will carry with them for the rest of their lives – the first to a “horrific” crime scene, coming across not only those that were killed but the survivors scared and in pain.

Police in tactical gear cling to the back of an armored vehicle from Portland Police Department as it speeds northbound on Rt. 196 on Thursday afternoon. Police presence was heavy in the Lisbon area all day Thursday after fatal shootings Wednesday night in Lewiston. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

That situation was made all the more challenging as law enforcement was on high alert for two full days when Card’s whereabouts were unknown, Holbrook said. They were unable to have time to process an emotionally distressing event, worrying about their families’ safety, but unable to be with them, Holbrook said, adding that this is all happening under sleep deprivation.

“It was an outpouring of anguish,” Holbrook said.

Cyr-Martel, clinical director for the Tri-County Critical Incident Stress Management Team, where she in part works with police to provide services after an event like this, said the real challenges and emotional tolls have now only begun to develop.

“Their brain and body didn’t have a chance to start to come down from that until after they found the individual,” she said. “It’s gonna take some time before anyone can truly wrap their brain around what transpired.”


That impact can manifest as heightened anxiety, long-term hypervigilance, intense attachments to family, depression, withdrawal, or post-traumatic stress disorder, Holbrook said. “Hypervigilance, in terms of it being a symptom, is being overly reactive to common experiences,” Holbrook said. “You’re always scanning, you’re always looking, you can’t relax. There’s no way to turn down your sense of awareness.”

That’s where services from Cyr-Martel’s critical incident team, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, and counseling from professionals like Holbrook come in.

They come up against a long-standing stigma in the law enforcement community about asking for help. As a result, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for law enforcement officers, significantly higher than the general population, according to a 2021 study from Andrea Steege and John M. Violanti.

“When I first started with law enforcement, there was certainly a feeling where ‘This is the job you chose, this is what you showed up for.’ The support was not always there,” Cyr-Martel said. “It was difficult for officers to step forward when there were concerns.

But Cyr-Martel and Cumberland police Chief Charles Rumsey believe change is afoot.

“Stigma associated with asking for help has historically been an issue. But over the past decade, we’ve made significant progress in this area,” said Rumsey, who is also the president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. “We try to help our officers understand that caring for their mental fitness is as important as caring for their physical fitness.”

Holbrook had to extend his schedule for the week with new, current, and former patients reaching out for support. Cyr-Martel and her Tri-County team have deployed counselors to different agencies, including the Lewiston Police Department, to “provide strategies to get people back to some semblance of homeostasis, or back to where they might have been before this incident occurred.”

The Maine Chiefs of Police Association, along with NAMI Maine and the York County Peer Support Team, held that debriefing for peer support on Friday.

“The intent is to normalize the typical stress reactions, empower healthy coping mechanisms, and encourage attendees to seek additional support as necessary,” Rumsey said. “These debriefings and peer support are very different from after-action reviews and do not focus on investigative details, but officer wellness and resiliency.”

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