Maine Shooting

Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a news conference in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Lewiston. Matt Rourke/Associated Press

AUGUSTA — Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday appointed a former chief justice of the state’s high court to lead an independent investigation into last month’s deadly shootings in Lewiston.

Mills signed an executive order directing the seven-member commission to investigate the police response to the attacks and to warnings in the weeks and months before about the shooter’s declining mental health and threats of violence.

Uncovering the facts of the Oct. 25 shootings is critical to helping the state understand and learn from what happened, Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey wrote in a letter to the newly appointed commission.

“All that we ask is that you follow the facts, wherever they may lead, and that you do so in an independent and objective manner, biased by no one and guided only by the pursuit of truth,” Mills and Frey said in the letter.

Mills and Frey tapped several former judges and prosecutors, as well as a forensic psychologist and a psychiatrist. The commission doesn’t include any administration officials, law enforcement leaders, lawmakers or political advocates.

The commission will be led by Daniel Wathen, a former chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court who has overseen the state’s efforts to improve mental health services as part of a 1990 court settlement with patients of the Augusta Mental Health Institute.


In addition to Wathen, members of the commission are:

• Debra Baeder, a former chief forensic psychologist for the state
• George (Toby) Dilworth, a former assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine and the current managing director at Drummond Woodsum
• Ellen Gorman, a former associate justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court
• Geoffrey Rushlau, a former District Court judge and former district attorney for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties
• Dr. Anthony Ng, board-certified psychiatrist and medical director of Community Services for Northern Light Acadia Hospital
• Paula Silsby, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine


There is no specific deadline for the commission to submit findings and it was not clear Thursday when the work would begin.

In their letter, Mills and Frey said the commission should “conduct its work with a due sense of urgency, guided by, above all else, the pursuit of facts and the necessary time that may take.”

An executive order signed by the governor also states that the commission “shall balance the need for an appropriately thorough inquiry with the public’s interest in timely answers.”


Mills and Frey have asked that when the commission’s work does conclude, it issues a report to be released to the public.

“It is Chairman Wathen’s intent to organize a meeting of commission members as soon as possible, not only to establish a timeline for its work but, most important, to begin its assignment to investigate the facts of the tragedy,” Kevin Kelley, a spokesperson for the commission, said in a statement.

Kelley said the commission is committed to conducting as much work as possible in an open setting while also being sensitive to privacy concerns.

“October 25, 2023, will forever be a dark day in our state’s history,” Kelley said. “The commission’s top priority is to ensure that its work will not only help answer the many questions but also bring some sense of peace to the victims and the family members of those who lost their lives on that horrific day.”

The commission will be funded by the attorney general’s office, which will work with the chair to determine what is needed. Its members will not be compensated for their work, according to the executive order.



Bobbi Nichols, whose sister Tricia Asselin was killed at Just-In-Time Recreation and who was at the bowling alley the night of the shootings, believes the commission is a good idea but wants to see its work come with action.

“You can look into it all you want, but if you don’t do anything or make a change it doesn’t matter in the end,” Nichols said.

Nichols said authorities could have done more to get gunman Robert Card access to mental health care and prevent the shootings in which 18 people were killed and another 13 injured.

The U.S. Army Reserve, which Card served in, alerted police in September to concerns they had after Card spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital in July and threatened “to shoot up” the Army Reserve center in Saco.

“So many people dropped the ball. … He was in the hospital and they should have held him longer,” Nichols said.

Nichols said Maine’s yellow flag law should have been used to keep guns away from Card, but she doesn’t think gun control legislation is the answer to preventing mass shootings.


“Criminals will always get guns,” Nichols said. “They can pass whatever laws they want, but it’s not going to matter. People need help with mental health.”


Lawmakers expressed general support for the commission on Thursday, though some said they have questions about the review process and haven’t yet had time to delve into details. They also said they will be watching the commission’s work closely.

“I would say that we as a caucus think they’re all very capable people, high integrity,” Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said of the commission.

“At the same time, we feel strongly that we want to keep an eye on how this goes so that we get the best information we can to make sure that in the upcoming session we’re able to do whatever we can to make good policy,” he said. “It’s not a rubber stamp or anything like that. We’re watching it carefully. But I have great respect for the members.”

“The governor has appointed a highly respected panel of experts and moved swiftly to create this commission,” a spokesperson for House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said in a statement.


“The speaker and the entire Legislature will be paying close attention to their work while concurrently enacting a legislative review process as they consider any policy changes in the next legislative session. The response to the tragedy that occurred in Lewiston must be timely, comprehensive, inclusive, collaborative and most importantly – thorough.”

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, is pleased with the former judges who were appointed, but thinks the panel also should include members from the military and law enforcement.

“I actually thought she did a pretty good job on that side,” Stewart said of the former judges. “I just worry that the perspective of law enforcement and the military is not there.”

Stewart said he needs more information from the group before deciding whether lawmakers should form their own review panel.

“All we have seen is a list of names,” he said. “We don’t actually know what process they’re going to use, what powers they’re going to have, (or) what the end goal is. So, I think getting a more thoughtful plan on her part would be helpful in figuring out whether we need to step in or not.”

Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, said she was happy that Mills, a Democrat, didn’t make any political appointments to the panel.


“It is important that it’s independent and that we have people from outside who weren’t necessarily involved in the whole search and what was going on,” Arata said. “In that respect, I like her picks. I think they’re all pretty independent.”

Mills announced her intent to establish the commission last week amid scrutiny of the police response to the shootings and questions about whether more could have been done to prevent them.

The Maine State Police have said they support the commission, as has Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, whose office received two warnings about Card in the months leading up to the shootings. The sheriff’s office is also working with an attorney to conduct its own independent review.

“I support the idea and the establishment of a commission to look into this,” Merry said Thursday. “It’s a terrible thing that occurred and it’s awful for our state. … There are families who have suffered great loss here. I hope this answers some questions for them, although nothing will change the course of events that occurred that day.”

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.

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